‘Work Together’ Spirit Grows: Will it Mean a New Beginning in Local Schools?

  • A crowd of 189 flowed into Frazier Mountain High School, rising to over 200, to say "Bring Back the Sports" May 23 after being alerted that the sports program had been cut because of a $1.3 million budget cut for El Tejon Unified School District.

    A crowd of 189 flowed into Frazier Mountain High School, rising to over 200, to say "Bring Back the Sports" May 23 after being alerted that the sports program had been cut because of a $1.3 million budget cut for El Tejon Unified School District.

By Patric Hedlund

While Scott Parker was waiting in line at Don’s Market in Frazier Park Sunday night (buying marinara sauce for an Italian sausage spaghetti feast with his family), he was talking about what had happened Thursday, May 19 at the emergency meeting of the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Trustees. Around town, that seemed to be what people were talking about everywhere, in the grocery store, at a soccer car wash, in the restaurants, even in church.

Emergency Board of Trustees Meeting
Thursday, May 19
Superintendent Katie Kleier wished to hire a high school principal and fire 19 classified support staff employees. That same week she had put Frazier Mountain High School Principal Dan Penner on administrative leave without a public explanation.

The timing of the sudden meeting, with less than 26-hours notice, was seen by many as a manipulation of the emergency meeting clause in the Ralph M. Brown Act. The Brown Act protects the public’s right to know what their elected officials are doing, by requiring ample notice and posting of a full agenda prior to a meeting for deliberation and action. Such meetings must take place “in the public eye.”

This emergency meeting was being called suddenly at a time when it was unlikely that those most interested could attend. The El Tejon School Open House was the same night, when parents and teachers were committed to being in classrooms, not in an ETUSD board room, despite the touchy subject.

The Mountain Enterprise asked Kleier if she had discounted the community’s request to participate in the hiring of the principal.

She said, “as the administrator, it is my right to hire the principal.” But things did not go as expected.

At 5 p.m. people were already lining up in front of the conference room for the 6 p.m. executive session. By 5:55 the place was awash in blue “Work Together” shirts, as all the seats in the meeting room were filled by parents, students, community members, school teachers and support staff. Many filled out blue cards requesting to speak. They focused on the $129,000 they said was in the proposed budget for salary and benefits for a new high school principal. They said that money should be used to help keep teacher’s aides in the classrooms and to maintain the high school sports program. Some asked for an opportunity to present an alternate budget to the board.

Associated Student Body President Danielle Culver said, “Wait two weeks (before hiring a principal). Our students and teachers said we wanted to meet with the candidate being interviewed for the principal’s position. Our request was turned down. Why was that? Maybe we need to eliminate the superintendent’s position and use the money for sports.”

Joe Lopez said the budget as written would put a padlock on the front door of the high school, because all the parents who could would take their children off the hill to other schools.

Mark and Kathy Pilgrim told about 90 people in the public meeting that colleges look for applicants with both good grades and also sports and extracurricular activities. To eliminate those programs would handicap their children’s chances to get into college. Others spoke about the loss to property values if the schools collapsed.

The board announced that the new principal-candidate selected by Superintendent Kleier for board approval had withdrawn his candidacy. Those present said that the board then mumbled in low voices something about classified staff. Some thought the layoffs had been tabled. Many complained that the board’s action was inaudible.

What occurred is that 19 people were given 45 days notice that they were going to lose their jobs, including 11 classroom paraeducation aides, a library clerk, the superintendent’s administrative assistant, two custodians, two groundskeepers, a bilingual aide and an RSP aide.

Community ‘Save the Sports’ Meeting
May 23
Student athlete Antonio Saenz had organized a meeting about the loss of the sports programs for the following Monday, May 23. He encourage parents and students to find a way to raise funds to maintain high school varsity sports.

Students, parents, business community members and school employees—a crowd of 189 people, later rising to over 200— poured into the high school Monday night. Many, in frustration, had come to complain and confront.

Instead, as they signed in, they were all handed a copy of the school budget. After they were seated, Superintendent Kleier picked up a microphone and walked them step-by-step through the numbers, telling of the anguish experienced by administrators who have seen the state of California fail nine times to pay money owed to the school district, leaving a distortion on the school’s books, making it look as if the revenues are larger than they are.

“That is paper revenue, unpaid,” Kleier said. In fact, there is a $1,279,000 hole in the budget. She said that when it comes to potential solutions to the budget crisis for next year, “everything is on the table,” including the possibility that the superintendent would split duties with administering the high school. She pointed out that all the admniistrators "already do more than one thing." Dena Kiouses is principal of both Frazier Park School and El Tejon School; Charles ‘Buck’ Weber is vice  principal at El Tejon School, principal of the El Tejon Continuation High School and now interim principal at FMHS. "And in additon to working as superintendent for the district, I am the principal for the Pine Mountain Learning Center," Kleier said.

She said she had researched how parents could provide transportation to league games, which could shave $50,000 off the cost of the sports program. She reported she had just learned that day from the school’s insurance carrier that if parents made arrangements independently, separate from the school, that they can provide transportation. The cost of running buses for after school extracurricular activities has become a steep challenge to school budgets. Last year the ETUSD late bus was cut, saving about $77,000 according to one report, but simultaneously making it difficult for many students to participate in clubs and sports practice.

There were some rude catcalls early in the evening, but the vast majority of the crowd turned toward working together to find solutions.

“The superintendent has earned some respect, and so has the community,” one parent said. Indeed, it appeared to be a week when both the superintendent and the community got to know each other a little better.

Launch of ‘Save the Sports’ Effort May 31
The FMHS Booster Club said it needs help to raise funds. The Booster Board invites everyone to attend a meeting on Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30 p.m. to elect a new board and to begin to structure plans for raising about $50,000. The meeting will be at Caveman Cavey’s Pizza Restaurant in Frazier Park.

This is part of the May 27, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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