Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch student again earns Dean’s List recognition at Norwich University

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
Ethan Bilotti FB Antioch student again earns Deans List recognition at Norwich University

Ethan Bilotti – from his Facebook page.

In order to be eligible to be on the Dean’s list a student must carry at least 12 credit hours and attain a grade point average of at least a 3.0.

Bilotti is studying biology and serving the U.S. Army while attending college.

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). For more information visit www.norwich.edu.

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Antioch School Board approves labor agreements, considers parcel tax

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

By John Crowder

Labor agreements negotiated by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) with the Antioch Education Association (AEA) and California School Employees Association (CSEA) were both ratified at the May 28th meeting of the school board. The board also approved an adjustment to salary schedule and benefits for the Antioch Management Association (AMA).

According to documents submitted to the board by Keith Rogenski, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, the compensation for members of all three groups was increased by 5.21%. The total cost of the compensation increase for each group is listed as $2,442,195 with AEA, $1,029,960 with CSEA, and $384,245 with AMA. Together, the agreements raise the combined total compensation costs to AUSD by about $3.5 million.

Later in the meeting the Board revisited an item that had been discussed earlier this year during their January 22nd meeting. At that meeting, the idea of placing a parcel tax on the November ballot had been raised, and staff had been directed to gather further information. The board had not been willing, however, to authorize conducting a survey of Antioch citizens on the matter. Now the decision to move forward with a survey of voters appears to be gaining support.

During the discussion on the potential for placing a parcel tax on the ballot, all three board members who were present, President Joy Motts, Vice President Gary Hack, and Trustee Barbara Cowan, indicated they were in favor of moving forward with a survey.

However, before a motion was made supporting this step, both Superintendent Dr. Donald Gill and Hack voiced the opinion that it would be better to wait until the full board was present before taking any action on the matter. Board members Diane Gibson-Gray and Claire Smith were absent from the meeting.

Nonetheless, it was agreed that Associate Superintendent Tim Forrester could begin working to determine what questions the survey should ask in order to save time should the board decide to move forward with the survey in June.

According to Forrester, the purpose of the survey would be to determine whether or not there is public support for putting a parcel tax on the ballot in support of various programs that might be implemented or expanded by AUSD.

School boards have no authority to tax anyone,” Forrester said. “A survey is a way for the board to gauge if the public would support the board in placing a parcel tax on the ballot for needed programs for students. A survey would ask, at what level, would the public consider supporting the district’s needs.”

Some of the programs mentioned during the meeting that might be supported by a parcel tax included technology, counselors, art and music classes, and after-school programs. The cost of conducting such a survey was estimated to be between $25,000 and $30,000.

Not everyone at the meeting was happy with the idea of a parcel tax. Prior to the board discussion, one Antioch resident, Julie Young, addressed the matter during public comments. Young urged against placing a parcel tax on the ballot, citing a long list of other taxes either already in place, such as Mello Roos, Measure B and Measure C, or proposed, such as Measure E (which passed on June 3rd), the landlord business license tax and the increase in the minimum business license tax.

She made an analogy between a family that must budget for a large expense and government.

We are already taxed and if you want something else, you should budget and save to get it,” Young stated. “If you decide to put the parcel tax on the ballot for November, be prepared for a huge campaign against it.”

The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 11th, at 7:00 p.m. The Board is expected to take up the question of whether or not to move forward with the survey to gauge the support for a parcel tax at that time. Meetings are held at the AUSD School District Office located at 510 G Street.

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Teachers, Antioch School District reach labor agreement

Monday, May 26th, 2014

By John Crowder

The Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) and the Antioch Education Association (AEA) announced that they have reached a tentative agreement in their recent labor talks at the AUSD School Board meeting on Wednesday, May 14th.

As recently as April 28th, the AEA had posted on their website an update expressing their dismay that AUSD had not yet made a salary proposal in the ongoing negotiations. On May 6th, however, both groups were able to reach agreement on all points that had been under consideration during the negotiating process.

Under the terms of the tentative agreement, teachers in the district are to receive two retroactive raises. The first is a 2% increase in “all salary schedules and advanced degree stipends in the Collective Bargaining Agreement” effective from July 1, 2013. The second is also a 2% increase on the same items and is effective from January 1, 2014. In addition, it was agreed that, “The extra duty schedule, stipends, hourly rate, period substitution, and all other rates of pay shall be increased by 4.04% effective July 1, 2014, effectively increasing payment for other teacher duties by the same rate as the salary raises negotiated during the talks.

Class size was another item negotiated during the meetings. Here, for grades K-3, the parties have agreed to reduce class sizes year-to-year, with an average class size of 29 pupils per site for those grades during the 2014-2015 school year, 28 during the 2015-2016 school year, and 27 for the 2016-2017 school year. Maximum class size for those years were also agreed to, of 30, 29, and 28 respectively.

The adoption of Common Core Standards by the state of California was also taken up during the bargaining process. Addressing this issue, the parties created a Memorandum of Understanding emphasizing their shared commitment to successful implementation of the program, which they jointly state will, “ensure that ALL students are ready for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century.” In order to accomplish this goal, AEA and AUSD have agreed to establish “an advisory Common Core Committee (CCC).” This committee, to be comprised of district members, teachers, and that may include up to two parents, is to meet at least four times per school year. Their primary role will be to “help guide the implementation of Common Core,” including staff development related to the implementation of the new standards.

Robert Stickler, President of the AEA, said, “AEA is pleased with the tentative agreement that was reached with AUSD on May 6th, 2014. I have heard many positive comments from teachers regarding the 4.04% raise and an increase to the district’s contribution to benefits. We are also happy that elementary teachers in grades kindergarten through third grade will have class size maximums written in the contract and that these maximums will reduce each year over the next 3 school years. The class size ratios for these grades will also be reduced. They will continue to be reduced further if the state’s projected Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is fully implemented over its 8 year time span.”

Antioch teachers are now in the process of voting for ratification of the agreement. The results of that vote are expected next Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Board is expected to vote on acceptance of the agreement as well.

In other news, the Board recognized employees for their outstanding service. Anndria Romo, who assists with Special Education at Diablo Vista Elementary School, was chosen as the Classified Representative of the year. Julie Verhoek, from Sutter Elementary, was Runner Up Teacher of the Year, and Kevin Jones, Antioch High School EDGE Academy, was selected as the Teacher of the Year.

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County School Board votes to deny Dozier-Libbey independent charters

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

By John Crowder

On Wednesday, May 21, the Contra Costa County Board of Education (Board) voted 3 to 1 to deny the petition submitted by the teachers of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) to convert the campus to a charter school and remove it from under the control of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD).

Board Trustee Cynthia Ruehlig cast the lone vote in favor of the petition. Trustees Richard Asadoorian, Daniel Gomes, and Pamela Mirabella voted in opposition to the charter proposal.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, County Office of Education staff (Staff) had submitted a recommendation to the Board that the petition be denied. In recommending for denial, they stated that, “the Petition presents an unsound educational program and petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the Petition. The Petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the elements prescribed by law.”

Staff findings were refuted in a letter submitted to the Board by Paul Minney, an attorney representing the teachers, and by supporters of the move speaking at Wednesday’s meeting. With respect to Staff finding that the charter school would present an unsound education program, Minney’s letter pointed out that the Education Code specifically defined “an unsound educational program” as one that would present, “the likelihood of physical, educational, or psychological harm,” or “was not likely to be of educational benefit” to pupils, noting there was no evidence to support either contention.

Many of the public comments in support of the charter petition dealt with the concerns regarding their plan for assisting low-achieving, special education, and English learner students. Those opposed cited the problems identified by Staff in their report, and noted that many groups in the community, including elected officials, AUSD employees, advocacy groups and business representatives were opposed.

Following public comments on the matter, the Board questioned the teachers, staff, and AUSD representatives.

Ruehlig was the most outspoken in asking questions, beginning her examination by charging the teachers with explaining what they were offering that was not in place when they won a Distinguished School award in 2011. Dr. Cynthia Soraoka responded by detailing her desire to have her students participate in “virtual internships” with doctors from around the world. She described how her efforts to bring such plans to fruition had been stymied by AUSD over the last few years, specifically addressing a lack of technology. Ruehlig then asked how many of the teachers were committed to working at the school who had been involved with Dozier-Libbey when it won the Distinguished School award. Teachers responded that, with two exceptions, the staff would be the same.

Asadoorian asked about the use of the facility currently occupied by DLMHS. AUSD has taken the position that the charter school, if approved, would not be entitled to the use of the facility because of a lack of timeliness in requesting its use. This argument was countered by Minney, who said that, although he was confident that the teachers were legally entitled to the use of the facility, the teachers were willing to delay the conversion until the 2015-2016 school year in order to avoid a protracted legal fight.

Trustee Mirabella took issue with what she considered the lack of a comprehensive plan, as outlined in the petition, to operate the school as a charter.

In explaining their positions just prior to the vote, Mirabella and Ruehlig each weighed in on the proposal. Mirabella said she was voting against the petition, and supporting the findings of county Staff in their assessment that there were too many corrections needed. She went on to say that the intent of the law was to convert low-performing schools to charters, and that this petition had divided the community.

Ruehlig countered that the main question was whether or not we have the right to self-governance. She said her decision was based on the proposal presenting a sound educational program, and that it not only was sound, but was likely to succeed, and was best for the community.

With the rejection of their proposal by both the Antioch and Contra Costa School Boards, teachers must now decide if they will appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.

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County school board hears Dozier-Libbey independent charter petition

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

By John Crowder

On Wednesday, May 7th, the Contra Costa County Board of Education heard from members of the teaching staff of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS). The teachers were petitioning the board to convert the campus to a charter school at the beginning of the coming school year. Following their 10 minute power point presentation, representatives of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD), which currently operates the school, voiced their arguments against the move. Once both presentations had concluded, members of the public were invited to share their views. Almost one hundred speakers did so, with slightly more comments in favor of the conversion petition.

The public hearing, held at a middle school auditorium in Pleasant Hill in order to accommodate the large number of people interested in the issue, began just after 6:00 p.m. with Board Vice President Daniel Gomes opening the meeting.

Following a brief statement from Bill Clark, Associate Superintendent, Business Services, introducing the matter, Dr. Cynthia Soraoka, a health science teacher at DLMHS, introduced three of her colleagues who presented their case to the Board. The three teachers, Stacey Wickware, Lisa Kingsbury, and Kasey Graham, lead petitioners for the proposed charter school, each highlighted different aspects of the projected benefits of the conversion.

Wickware, a history and ethics teacher, began by detailing some of the benefits their charter proposal would provide to students. These included an ability to expand course offerings in the arts and the establishment of new courses, such as Medical America (a U.S. history course) and Forensic Pathology. One area that she emphasized was an enhanced Special Education program, which would include tailored credit recovery and the hiring of Instructional Aides, including those with the ability to speak Spanish.

Kingsbury, an English teacher, followed Wickware, continuing with the theme of student support. She emphasized summer programs the teachers planned to implement and the ability they would have to “use innovative technology to expand relationships with health care professionals around the world.”

Graham, also an English teacher, finished the presentation with a focus on student life and civic involvement. She discussed the implementation of an intramural sports program and assured the Board that the school would serve the students of Antioch, preemptively addressing two areas, sports and enrollment criteria, in which the petitioners have been repeatedly challenged by AUSD since the conversion proposal was introduced in February.

With the conclusion of the teachers’ remarks, AUSD representatives presented the Board with arguments against the proposed charter. First to speak against the conversion petition was Joy Motts, President of the AUSD school board. Reading a statement she said had been authorized by her peers, she called the charter petition “divisive,” and said the petitioners did not use an inclusive process in creating their proposal. She said the proposal raised “serious concerns,” and was “flawed.” She went on to say that there was “overwhelming opposition” to the proposal, concluding her remarks by stating, “Dozier-Libbey was created by the Antioch community, and belongs to the entire community.”

Motts was followed by Jack O’Connell, a long-time California politician who has served as a state Assemblyman, state Senator, and, most recently, as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction until January, 2011. An internet search finds him listed as a partner with Capitol Advisors Group, LLC, which bills itself as “a team of experts in California politics, education policy and finance, legislative strategy, and public affairs.”

O’Connell said that the original intent of the charter school law was to try and rid schools of over burdensome regulation from Sacramento, and “raise the bar.” He went on to say that [those proposing charter schools] should, “engage and involve all the parents in all the community,” something he believed had not been done by the DLMHS teachers. “I would strongly urge you to not approve this conversion,” he concluded.

Gomes called for public comments at this point, and speakers both for and against the proposal lined up to speak. While there was some crossover, speakers tended to fall into very distinct categories. Most of those speaking in favor of the charter proposal were teachers from DLMHS, parents of students attending the school, and the students themselves. Opposed were employees of AUSD and their relatives, and representatives of two special interest advocacy groups, the NAACP and Parents Connected. Antioch Mayor Wade Harper and Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha also spoke in opposition. Both sides had lawyers present and speaking on their behalves.

Those speaking in favor of the charter emphasized the quality of the education they expected under the plan presented by the teachers while complaining that, if left under AUSD control, the academic program at the school would continue to decline. April Padilla, whose stepson attends DLMHS, chided AUSD for “pushing [students] to reach for mediocrity.”

You don’t have to stop at good,” she said, “You can be better, you can be great, you can be exceptional.”

Angela Lacy, another parent, complained that AUSD personnel had the mindset that, “having a darker skin color [was] being treated as a learning disability.” She went on to say that, “They [the independent charter petitioners] will have programs in place to help all students succeed.”

The staff at Dozier-Libbey are simply trying to take something great and turn it into something outstanding,” said Jared Sarinas, a 2012 graduate of DLMHS. Countering an oft-heard point made in opposition to the charter, he said, “The staff have outlined that the students of Antioch will clearly be given attendance priority under the independent charter.”

Edgar Osario, past president of the DLMHS Parent/Teacher/Student Association, was particularly critical of AUSD in his remarks. He addressed arguments that AUSD personnel have been making against the proposed charter for the past two months.

AUSD has made some inflammatory remarks,” he stated. “The statement that Dozier-Libbey cherry picks their students and that’s the reason for their success is absolutely false. The district controls the lottery process. I am further offended that it’s implied that minority students leaving Dozier-Libbey are being ‘forced out.’ My Hispanic/Filipino daughter left the school because we left the district, she was not forced out because she couldn’t handle [the] curriculum. Minority enrollment at Dozier-Libbey is 77%, at Deer Valley is 78%, and at Antioch High is 73%. Your numbers just don’t add up.”

People speaking in opposition to the charter were equally fervent in their statements, focusing primarily on what they viewed as a secretive and divisive attempt to, as AUSD Director of Student Support Services Bob Sanchez said, “hijack the school.”

Scott Bergerhouse, appointed in April as principal for the competing “dependent charter school” proposed by AUSD in response to the teachers’ petition, told the board that the independent charter proposal would mean a loss of sports programs for DLMHS students. He went on to say that it would place district employees at risk of losing their jobs.

Other speakers reiterated the themes that the petition was divisive and wasn’t inclusive, one stating that it “violated the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education,” the landmark Supreme Court case decided in 1954 in which the Court declared that separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.

In all, the board listened for about three-and-a-half hours to anyone wanting to speak on the conversion charter issue, then adjourned in order to return to the County Education office to discuss other matters, including the appointment of a fifth board member. The decision they must now make was perhaps best summed up by Jim Bonwell, a parent of a junior at DLMHS, who asked, “Whose vision will better serve the students?” The County School Board is expected to announce their decision within two weeks.

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Judge rules against Antioch school district in Dozier-Libbey case

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

By John Crowder

Judge Laurel Brady issued her decision, on Thursday, May 1, 2014, following a hearing last Monday in a case filed by the petitioner teachers of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) against the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD). In it, she affirms her tentative decision issued last Friday, granting the injunction requested by teachers at the school to prevent AUSD, et. al, “from converting anything related to Dozier-Libbey Medical School to the Dozier-Libbey Medical School, a dependent charter school, during the pendency of the action.”

In her decision, Judge Brady acknowledges both the novelty and complexity of the case, saying, “This is a unique situation and series of events with little case law or legislative history that is helpful. It is also not only an analysis of the statutory and case law that applies, but requires a careful review and analysis of the actions taken by the parties.”

As previously reported, the issue of whether or not the action taken by AUSD involved the conversion of a school to a charter, or if it was a start-up, as AUSD contended, was critical to the analysis conducted by Judge Brady. She said, “…if Respondants [AUSD], although labeling it a start up charter school, in fact created a conversion charter school, they did not fulfill the requirements of the statute and the Petitioners [DLMHS teachers] (are) likely to prevail.”

Judge Brady went on to note five actions taken by AUSD that she used to determine that AUSD had, “although labeling it as a start up charter school, really created a conversion charter school.” Her opinion reads, “The court noted the following:

  1. Respondants selected the same or very similar name for the new charter school as the existing school

  2. The new charter school was to be located in the same location/campus as the existing school.

  3. Respondants assigned the same school district code numbers for the school. (Logically, these codes would be different for a new start up school)

  4. Respondants assigned the same API scores as the existing school (these API scores would not apply to a start up school)

  5. The notice indicated that existing students would get preference at the new charter school (which is a requirement of a conversion school not a start up).”

Even with today’s ruling, however, the final dispensation of DLMHS is not yet settled. The teachers who filed the petition to convert DLMHS to an independent charter must still obtain approval for their proposal. It was rejected by the AUSD School Board on March 19th, and appealed to the Contra Costa County Board of Education following that action. The County Board will conduct a public hearing on the matter on May 7th, beginning at 6:00 p.m. at the Pleasant Hill Middle School multipurpose room, 1 Santa Barbara Road, Pleasant Hill.

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Tentative ruling in Dozier-Libbey case favors teachers

Monday, April 28th, 2014

By John Crowder

Judge Laurel Brady has issued a tentative ruling in a case filed by the petitioner teachers of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) against the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD). In it, she grants the injunction requested by teachers at the school to prevent AUSD, et. al, “from converting anything related to Dozier-Libbey Medical School to the Dozier-Libbey Medical School, a dependent charter school, during the pendency of the action.” A final ruling on the matter is expected this Friday.

AUSD personnel, in response to a majority of the teachers at DLMHS (88% of the certificated teaching staff) filing a petition to convert the school to a charter school, filed a petition with the AUSD School Board (Board) of their own. In it, they proposed what they referred to as a “dependent charter school” that would remain under the control of the district. Subsequently, the Board denied the teacher’s petition for a conversion charter school, and approved the district proposed dependent charter school at a packed meeting on March 19th.

One of the key issues in the case is whether or not the AUSD’s proposal was a start-up charter school, as district personnel claimed, or if it was in actuality a conversion of an existing school. This is an important issue to be decided, as the legal requirements differ when converting a school to a charter as opposed to starting a charter school. For example, the signature requirements differ between the two scenarios. In a conversion of an existing school to a charter school, a petition is required to have signatures of 50% of the existing teaching staff. As noted earlier, the conversion petition submitted by the teachers had signatures from 88% of the current teaching staff, while the petition submitted by the district does not have signatures of any current DLMHS teachers.

In her tentative ruling, Judge Brady stated, “Plaintiffs [DLMHS teachers] have shown that the Defendants [AUSD personnel] have performed a de facto conversion of DLMHS.”

In the analysis provided with her decision, Judge Brady notes that one of the factors that must be evaluated by the court with respect to whether a preliminary injunction should issue is the likelihood the plaintiff will prevail on the merits at trial. Judge Brady concludes that, “Because Plaintiffs’ underlying action is likely to succeed…Plaintiffs’ Application for an Injunction is granted.”

The complete text of the tentative ruling issued by Judge Brady can be found online at the Contra Costa Superior Court website. The case number is MSN14-0453, Dozier-Libbey vs. AUSD.

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Antioch School Board votes to close RAAMP, Carmen Dragon teachers voice concerns

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

By John Crowder

The Trustees of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) voted 4-1 at their April 9th meeting to close the RAAMP Charter Academy of Math and Science (RAAMP) at the end of this school year. According to RAAMP Board Chair Cheryl Cooper, there are no plans to appeal the decision.

The mood at the meeting was more somber than on previous occasions, where teaching staff, supporters, and parents of students at RAAMP had made impassioned pleas to keep the school open.

Karla Branch, one of the founders and the Executive Director of the school, spoke briefly prior to the vote being taken. Seemingly resigned to their fate, she nonetheless extolled the virtues of the program that she had worked to develop.

The disenfranchised student population needs something different,” she said. “That is what RAAMP has always been about. I am for disenfranchised students. I know what they need, and I know RAAMP gave it to them.”

Branch, expressed her appreciation for the AUSD Board, the administration and, in particular, Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Anello, for their support and the opportunity they had given her to begin the school five years ago.

I will walk away knowing RAAMP did amazing things…for a lot of people,” she concluded.

Following public comments, each member of the board spoke briefly about the decision they were about to make. While most expressed appreciation for the work Branch had done and for her passionate advocacy of the RAAMP program, nonetheless had determined that the data, specifically low academic performance scores, supported its closure. Trustee Gary Hack, who ended up casting the lone vote not to close the school, expressed how conflicted he was over the issue.

Dr. Don Gill, AUSD Superintendent, promised to work to assist those students displaced by the move, and emphasized the district’s African American Male Initiative as an avenue to help in the transition.

In another matter, teachers continued to voice their concerns with the level of violence in the Antioch schools. The situation at Dallas Ranch Middle School was brought up, as it has been for the past few months. Specific incidents were referenced, including a student having her hair caught on fire and a student being kicked in the face during another incident at the school.

Adding to the complaints regarding Antioch middle schools, for the first time in recent months, teachers from an elementary school, Carmen Dragon, came forward as a group to voice similar concerns regarding unruly students.

Patti Baggett, a fourth grade teacher at the school, read a statement outlining the problems while backed up by several teachers standing at the podium with her, and about a half-dozen more in the audience.

I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues at Carmen Dragon Elementary and throughout the entire district,” she stated. “We have become increasingly fearful for our students’ safety and our own ability to successfully provide for a positive learning environment…We are extremely concerned for our own personal safety…”

She went on to characterize a “lack of clearly defined district policies” as a major factor that “has led to many students becoming empowered with a rebellious attitude which endangers everyone in our district community.”

Baggett then referred to a specific incident in which she claimed that a student had “pushed a well-respected, experienced substitute teacher, then went straight to the office and reported that she had pushed him.”

These bullies, whose actions remain unchecked by your ineffective behavior policy, are stealing the rights of the majority of our Antioch youth to learn and be safe in our classrooms,” she added.

In other education news, teachers and supporters of the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School independent charter petition attended the Contra Costa County Board of Education meeting where several spoke in support of the teachers’ petition. That board is expected to take up the matter in early May.

Future meetings of the AUSD Board are scheduled for May 14th and May 28th and are held at the AUSD office at 510 G Street.

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