by John Crowder
For the third time in three meetings, the 2015-2016 academic site plans for both elementary and secondary schools in the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) were unable to gain full approval from the AUSD Board of Education.
At a special meeting held on Monday, June 29, with the plans being the only item on the agenda, the AUSD school board decided to table the review of the plans as a whole, sending them back to each school for further work. AUSD staff is to provide the board with an update as to their status at their next regularly scheduled meeting on August 12.
The board did, however, on a 5-0 vote, authorize the continued employment of personnel listed in the plans who are already working in the District, along with the hiring of any additional school personnel referenced in any of the plans. According to AUSD Chief Human Resources Officer Jessica Romeo, this latter motion allowed for the continued employment of 26.98 “Full Time Equivalents” (FTE’s) currently employed by AUSD. She said their compensation amounted to about $900,000 annually.
While some of the school site plans were praised by both school board members and members of the public, questions continued to be raised about others. Concerns with the latter plans included: improper certification by school site councils and plan content. An additional issue was that public notice of the previous school board meeting at which the plans had come up for review was insufficient.
June 30 Deadline and Risk of Loss of Funding
At the previous board meeting, held on Wednesday, June 24, AUSD staff members had made statements that, according to school board members, had led them to believe that the plans had to be approved by June 30, or the District risked losing funding. According to AUSD School Board President Claire Smith, this belief had caused her to schedule the special meeting to review the plans again, after the board had twice rejected them, for Monday, June 29.
During the June 29 meeting, though, the contention that there was a looming deadline of June 30 was also called into question. Over the few days between the June 24 and June 29 meeting, board members had independently researched questions concerning deadlines and funding issues with respect to site plans.
Board member Walter Ruehlig stated that he had placed eleven calls to the California Department of Education in order to determine the validity of the voiced concerns. “Plain and simple,” he said, the funding is not threatened and the monies for staffing have been budgeted.” He went on to say, “There is no deadline or compelling reason to immediately accept these plans.”
Board member Debra Vinson, who has been the most outspoken critic of the plans on the school board, said, “Not submitting the plans does not effect school site funding, at all.”
Smith said, “There doesn’t appear to be any deadline. But, we were told that [approval was required] by June 30. Now we know, that is not true.”
With the consensus of the board being that there was no deadline, and that no funding was in jeopardy should the plans not be approved, other issues were taken up.
The issue of proper notification seemed to be resolved. During public comments, Julie Young, the parent who had originally raised this concern, told the board that the plans had now been properly posted.
Even so, board members expressed the idea that improvements could be made when dealing with the public.
Board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray told staff, “Last year was flawed. This year was flawed again…it shouldn’t rely on a person, it should rely on a process.”
Ruehlig said, “We should not just make [the plans] accessible, we should promote them to the public so people know to look at it.”
Certification by School Site Councils
Concerns remained with respect to certification of the academic plans by the school site councils.
Arrieanna Lombard spoke during public comments.
“I take issue with the certification, and who signed it,” she said, referencing the statement at a previous meeting by a site council member at Deer Valley High School (DVHS) that there had never been a proper vote on the academic plan at that school.
Smith expressed her concern with the school site meetings, as well. “You need to have a quorum, she stated.” Advocating for the inclusion of the minutes of school site councils when plans are submitted to the board in the future, she said, “That would, indeed, show that they went through the process.”
Ruehlig said, “I’m concerned about the sign-offs.” He continued, stating that he had looked at the minutes for the DVHS site council after hearing concerns expressed at the last board meeting. “At DVHS, the last meeting was in March,” he said. He also said that he had spoken to another member of the site council who claimed to have never seen the document.
Gibson-Gray noted an additional problem with the certifications. “Some don’t have signatures,” she said.
Additionally, it was revealed that some of the plans had signatures, but no dates.
Content of Plans
The content of the plans was questioned during public comments by Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County NAACP. While he felt that the plans for two schools, Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) and Antioch High School (AHS) had merit, he questioned the documents produced by some of the other schools. “The school site plans should be data driven,” he said. “If they are not data driven, they are flawed.”
Young, who addressed this matter during public comments, also expressed concern that there was, “no data.”
Ruehlig, referencing plan content, said, “There is room for improvement. Quite a bit of room for improvement.”
Gibson-Gray complained that, “nothing matched,” and said that, in the future, “maybe an explanation can be given to us.”
On the other hand, Board member Barbara Cowan, who attended the meeting via phone because she was on vacation in Mexico, emphasized the difficulties faced by staff in developing the plans this year.
“I’m looking at the evolution of this whole process,” she said. “The schools had a number of constraints this year, [including] LCFF and [the fact that] the District has not had a vehicle to give each school their own data. They (the principals) don’t have the data,” she continued. Cowan further recommended that crucial expenditures in the plans should be approved, including personnel expenses.
With the continuing concerns over plan content, but the desire to continue to employ staff listed in the site plans, Gibson-Gray made a motion to approve the continued employment of staff members mentioned in the plans, and to hire any new employees they referenced. This motion, as noted above, was approved on a 5-0 vote.
With respect to the remainder of the plans, and with the understanding that there was no deadline for their approval, the board, by consensus, determined to send them back to the schools for additional work.
Smith emphasized the importance of each school site evaluating their unique needs. “Each school is different, (each) has its own climate,” she said. “These are the people (school site council) I want to sign off on the academic plans.”
Vinson encouraged those who would be working on the plans to, “be thorough, and work as a team.”
As the meeting concluded, Superintendent of Education, Don Gill, said, “The opportunity to hire is a huge relief. Rather than rush, it is better to be thorough.”
Following the meeting, Gill issued the following statement:
“The academic progress that the District has made in prior years has been built upon the implementation of a continuous cycle of improvement. Meaning, that we are constantly analyzing ways in which we can improve upon past practice. The input that our Board of Education has provided will allow us to further refine this process. We want to demonstrate higher levels of transparency, and to increase parent and community involvement. With timelines attached, that will allow higher levels of participation of all segments of the education community.
As soon as the new school year begins, our school site councils will be convened to review and refine current site plans with consideration of the input that our Board of Education provided at our last meeting. Throughout the year, our principals will meet regularly with their school site councils to ensure that full participation by all segments of the school community is accomplished.
Our expectation is that all school site programs and services will be fully accountable to achieving their stated goals. We want to expand those that are the most successful, and eliminate those that are not meeting the needs of our students.
We want to continue to have the community and the Board involved throughout the entire process so that the plans can be submitted and approved prior to the end of any current school year.”
The next AUSD board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12, 2015, at which time, as noted above, an update will be given to the board members regarding the school site academic plans. Meetings are held in the school services building, located at 510 G Street, in Antioch.