Antioch School Board rejects site plans for all schools in district, special meeting called for MondaySunday, June 28th, 2015
by John Crowder
In a highly unusual move, the Antioch School Board rejected, with a majority of board members voting no, the 2015-2016 School Site Academic Plans for all of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.
This marked the second meeting in a row where the plans failed to gain approval, even though the board room, each time, was filled with the principals of most of the local schools, available to address specific questions from board members. When last considered, on June 10, Stephanie Anello, Antioch Unified School District’s (AUSD) Associate Superintendent for Educational Services, had pulled the item regarding the elementary site specific plans from the consent calendar because, she said, the plans for two schools, Grant Elementary and Marsh Elementary, were incomplete.
At that same meeting, board members had complained about the limited time they were given to review the plans. Board Member Barbara Cowan said that the first time she had seen the plans was that evening, and that she had only had time to review one of them. Board Member Debra Vinson said that she would need time to review all of the plans. Board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray echoed their comments, and added that board members had asked for advance copies of the documents the previous year, as well.
At the June 24 meeting, AUSD Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Don Gill, introduced Dr. Cheryl Domenichelli, AUSD Coordinator of Outreach and Community Development, to speak to the plans. No sooner had she finished her remarks than it became clear that the plans were once again in trouble, as school board member Vinson’s opening comment was, “I don’t even know where to begin.” She then told Domenichelli, “Say that again.”
After another statement by Domenichelli, Vinson expressed her dissatisfaction.
“Only a handful of the elementary site plans have enough data to make the plans valid,” she said. “They don’t address foster youth. They don’t address communication with parents.”
Vinson also complained about a lack of consistency with how Supplemental and Concentration funds were being spent across the school sites.
Domenichelli responded to Vinson’s concerns. She explained that, “latitude is extended to [school] sites.” She also said that different schools have different populations, some might have only two foster youth attending, while others might have 30.
After a lengthy question and answer session, with members of the board questioning Domenichelli on various aspects of the plans, Board President Claire Smith called for public comments. Once again, the site plans were roundly criticized.
Arrieanna Lombard singled out the site plan for Deer Valley High School (DVHS), saying that, having looked at it, “I have some serious concerns.”
“These aren’t SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound),” she continued. “A goal is a desired result. Some of the actions don’t indicate how the goal will be met.”
“When you plan, you should be planning to hit the ground running with your goals. This document is…unacceptable,” Lombard added.
Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County NAACP, told the Board there was a “lack of parental involvement in development of the plans.”
“How many parents were involved with this?” he asked. “You don’t want parental involvement. You claim you do. But your actions say you don’t.”
He then pointed to Strategy #14 of the DVHS plan, listed as a strategy to meet the needs of foster youth, and for which the budgeted amount was given as $3.00.
“Three dollars? That is crazy,” he continued. “They developed a plan and just threw things in.”
Julie Young, who regularly attends and speaks at school board meetings, brought up the issue of proper public notice. She began by asking the board, “Can you get online? Go to the AUSD website.”
Young then walked the board members through the website links, showing them that the link for school site academic plans took them to the 2014-2015 plans, not the 2015-2016 plans, which they were supposed to be approving.
With this revelation, Domenichelli returned again to the podium, to explain that the plans were on-line, but under the LCAP link. Smith responded by saying the plans needed to be posted where a reasonable person could find them.
“I’m a reasonable person, and I couldn’t find them,” she said.
Synitha Walker, of Parents Connected, discussed her concerns with the process for development of the plans.
“I’m a school site member at DVHS,” she said, “and I’ve never seen this plan.” (According to a statement on the AUSD website accessed from the School Site Plans link, where the plans are now posted, “The School Site Council recommends this school plan…”) She went on to say that the process last year was, “terrible,” and that it will, “be bad this year, as well.”
Responding to further questions from the board, Louie Rocha, Principal of Antioch High School (AHS), came forward and gave an explanation as to the process used at his school to create their plan, while also elaborating on some of the goals and actions recommended in the AHS site plan.
While Rocha’s presentation received a favorable response, the plans submitted by other schools continued to be questioned.
“The DVHS plan is not clear,” said Vinson. “If this plan, as vague and bland as it is, is lined up with LCAP, then we have a problem.”
AUSD staff members, at one point, expressed concern that, without approval of the plans, some school funding might be jeopardized. But in response to questions from Herald staff, they have yet to explain what funding might be in jeopardy, and what, if any, deadline must be met with respect to board approval of the plans so as not to jeopardize such funding.
Responding to further statements from staff, Vinson continued to express her displeasure with what had been presented.
“What I don’t want to hear is excuses,” she said. “What I want to hear is that moving forward, we’re [addressing the needs] of all our students. Unequivocally.”
Following Vinson’s statement, Cowan moved to approve the plans, “with caveats.” Board Member Walter Ruehlig seconded, while also expressing reservations. Before the vote could be taken, though, Gibson-Gray added another comment. “This process is as flawed this week as it was two weeks ago,” she stated. “Now, the flaw is, it wasn’t available to the public. I’m going to vote no on this.”
The vote on Cowan’s motion was then taken, and it failed 2-3, with Gibson-Gray, Smith, and Vinson voting no.
“These plans are not approved tonight,” Smith told staff.
She then called a special meeting for Monday, at 5:00 p.m. at which the site plans will once again be discussed. The meeting will take place in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street.
Vinson had the last word of the night on the issue, telling everyone in attendance, “If you want to address these plans, that is the time to do it.”
When reached for comment via email about why he voted for the site plans, Ruehlig responded on Monday, June 29 at 7:00 a.m., “We were told the budget could be held back. They said June 30th was pitvotal but nobody at the State has confirmed that. I called the County and State Dept of Ed afterwards and found out that was apparently not the case. I am revoting tonite [sic] to reject.”