New members, new majority on Antioch School Board flex their muscles

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier gives the oath of office to new Antioch School Board Trustee Debra Vinson, at his office, on Monday, December 8, 2014.

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier gives the oath of office to new Antioch School Board Trustee Debra Vinson, at his Walnut Creek office, on Monday, December 8, 2014.  provided courtesy of Debra Vinson

Board splits on electing new leaders

By John Crowder

The December 10 meeting of the Antioch Unified School Board began with the newly elected board members, Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson, reenacting their swearing-in ceremony for the public. Superintendent Dr. Don Gill administered the oath of office to Ruehlig, while Contra Costa County District III Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho did the honors for Vinson.

Ruehlig had previously been sworn in by Smith, at an earlier meeting, that afternoon. Vinson was sworn in by State Senator Mark DeSaulnier at his office on Monday, December 8.

At the earlier ceremony, Allen Payton was the only member of the public in attendance, and offered his congratulations to both of the new trustees.

Two members of the public addressed the board following the re-enactment ceremony. Willie Mims, of the NAACP East County Branch, told the board that he would be watching them, and that he wanted to see money, coming to the school district under the Local Control Funding Formula, “go to the right place.”

Antioch Mayor Wade Harper thanked outgoing board members Gary Hack and Joy Motts for their service, and welcomed Ruehlig and Vinson to the board. He pledged his support for the school board, and suggested they arrange for a joint meeting of the school board and the Antioch City Council sometime during the upcoming year.

Following a brief reception, the first order of business was the reorganization of the board. Diane Gibson-Gray nominated Smith for the position of board President, and her motion was seconded by Ruehlig. She was confirmed on a 3-0-2 vote, with board members Gibson-Gray, Ruehlig and Smith voting yes, and board members Barbara Cowan and Vinson abstaining.

Gibson-Gray was elected to the position of board Vice President on a 3-1-1 vote, with Gibson-Gray, Ruehlig and Smith voting yes, Cowan voting no, and Vinson abstaining.

Before that vote, Vinson attempted to nominate Cowan as Vice President, to which Cowan responded she wouldn’t mind because she hadn’t yet served as either president or vice president. But, there was already a motion on the floor and Vinson’s motion could not be considered, until the vote on Gibson-Gray was taken.

Vinson explained her votes to abstain.

Part of what happened was I did feel too new, and the nomination for President happened so fast,” Vinson said. “But, also that it should have been on a rotation basis and that Barbara was in line and should have been the Vice President, having been on the board for two years.”

As the board moved on to regular business, it quickly became apparent that there was a very different mindset with respect to the review and approval of expenditures than that held by the prior board. Over the last few months, Smith, and often Gibson-Gray, had been in the minority when it came to reviewing district expenses. Expense items were routinely passed with little questioning of district staff, as the board members voting in the majority stated they “trusted” administrative staff to make wise spending decisions.

At the December 10 meeting, board members questioned the financial impact of several items, including a property transfer, a contract extension for an agreement with Tobinworld III (a provider of special education services), a contract for milk and dairy products, several change-orders related to the improvements being made to the stadium, track, and field at Antioch High School, and travel expenses incurred by board members.

New board member Vinson was the first to express concerns about finances, looking for assurances that a proposed property transfer would not result in any costs for the district. She would go on to ask questions about every item pulled from the consent calendar. Further, it was Vinson who pulled every change order from the consent calendar, emphasizing that change orders equated to higher costs. On this point, she was strongly supported by Smith, who said that, with every change order, “we lose money for classrooms.”

Ruehlig was responsible for pulling the consent calendar items involving the Tobinworld and milk delivery contracts, which, together, were valued at almost $2 million for the next year alone. He called for a board discussion of the Tobinworld agreement, with information to be provided regarding their competitors, between now and June, when a new contract for these services will need to be finalized. Gibson-Gray and Vinson, concurring with Ruehlig’s concerns about the process used in negotiating service contracts, also said they wanted assurances of proper oversight of such providers.

Ruehlig also questioned the bid process being used for the purchase of goods, as the milk contract, he noted, appeared to be backdated ten days. He told staff that more advance notice for such contracts would be required by the board going forward. He also said that more information needed to be provided to the board prior to bringing contracts to them for approval, calling the information they had been provided with, “sparse.”

Not even the filling of administrative positions recently vacated by staff leaving the district or requests for board member travel to conferences were immune from scrutiny. Smith called for a review of the administrative staff structure and job descriptions at a future meeting. Gibson-Gray questioned the need for board members traveling to conferences.

Two other items addressed were AUSD communications with parents, and the Pathways program.

Julie Young, a regular attendee at AUSD board meetings, raised concerns about an automated call she said that she and other parents had recently received from AUSD. According to Young, the calls referenced an “information packet” that was supposed to be available at her child’s school related to a “parent training” meeting. But, she said, when she called the school, they didn’t know anything about it. Then, just prior to coming to the school board meeting, she said she had received another call canceling the meeting.

Young also raised a concern with the Pathways program. She told the board that, once an 8th grader selects one of the Pathways, they are being locked into it. She said that children in 8th grade cannot be expected to definitively know what career they want to pursue at that age, and should have the ability to change their minds.

Smith and Ruehlig both concurred with Young regarding the Pathways program. Although Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent, Educational Services, said during the discussion that it was not the intent of the district to, “lock kids in” to a pathway, Smith said she had spoken with several parents who told her that their children were being pressured not to change their original choice. Cowan raised another concern, that some students are forced to leave the Pathways in order to obtain a full range of elective classes. At the end of the discussion, Anello vowed to investigate the matter.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for January 21 in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.

the attachments to this post:

DeSaulnier and Vinson

3 Comments to “New members, new majority on Antioch School Board flex their muscles”

  1. karl dietzel says:

    hello debra,

    good seeing you at the council meeting and congrats to your election.

  2. Arne says:

    It is great to see the new school board members questioning items that appear on the consent calendar! Accountability and fiscal discipline! Wow!

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