Eleven members of the California School Employees Association—nine of them from Fresno and Bakersfield—came to support a statement by Senior Labor Relations Representative Michael Noland at the ETUSD Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Sept. 12. Noland threatened the district with a lawsuit over a volunteer reading program for 2nd graders and parents being allowed to help in classrooms while teachers’ aides are still laid off. [photo by Patric Hedlund]
By Patric Hedlund
The printout of a lawsuit was the prop Michael Noland handed to trustees and waved at the audience at the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting September 12. Noland is a senior labor relations representative for the California School Employees Association (CSEA). He represents support staff without teaching certificates, such as teachers’ aides and custodians.
Noland came from Fresno with a group of union members from Bakersfield and another organizer to deliver a message. The CSEA spokesman threatened the board with legal action if volunteers for the United Way’s Community Reading Project are allowed at Frazier Park School.
The program helps at-risk second graders. That same program has been operating for 10 years in Bakersfield schools without incident, coordinated by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office (KCSOS).
Teresa Twisselman, who works for KCSOS, reports that struggling second graders who participate in the program show 7.9 months improvement in reading level in just one semester—a significant increase in reading skills, according to research. Twisselman said that 20 members of the Mountain Community have volunteered to take turns listening to second graders read at Frazier Park School.
Trustee Anita Anderson commented on the report, saying that the community is working together to give families confidence and pride in our schools. “We’re getting our spirit back,” Trustees Lark Shillig and Vickie Mullen said about the new school year. In one month, 16 new students have registered in ETUSD’s three schools.
But the challenge is still great. ETUSD staff report that in September 2012 there were 843 registered students; in September 2013 that number is 760, a drop of 67 students. Using last year’s payment rate from the state, that equals $399,381 lost to the district.
Declining enrollment is the principal cause for layoffs of CSEA’s teachers’ aides and its other classified support staff from the school district.
“The district and the union need to work something out to benefit students and bring students back to the schools,” Trustee John Fleming said.
Noland replied, “It requires negotiation, not unilateral action.”
New Frazier Park School principal Keri St. Jeor reported to the board that he is excited about the reading program. Training for community volunteers was set for Thursday, Sept. 19 at the school. Volunteers donate an hour each week. The program is only one hour a day, five days a week. Four children read for 15 minutes each to the adult.
The United Way of Kern County reports that students who fall behind in first grade reading have a one-in-eight chance of catching up. The Community Reading Project is designed to change the odds for those children.
California Standards Test results for Frazier Park School from 2012-2013 show that 30% of 2nd graders and 35% of 3rd graders tested as ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in English and Language Arts; 34% of the 2nd graders test at ‘Basic.’ The program will help the 36% who are ‘Below Basic’ or ‘Far Below Basic’ gain confidence in their reading skills. United Way covers the expense for background checks of community coaches.
On Sept. 16 at a special meeting of the board the interim superintendent was directed to “sit down informally with CSEA and work something out.” Teachers’ union president Chuck Mullen added, “Everyone is going to lose on this if they take a hard line.” He said he’d like to come, to bring coffee and donuts.
To see full stories with photos, please go to The Mountain Enterprise e-Edition
You can have your newspaper delivered via mail! Just call 661-245-3794.
Also, this story and others are available right now at newsstands throughout the Mountain Communities.
This is part of the September 20, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.