Teachers stage protest march before Antioch School Board splits 3-1 on Superintendent search firm

Antioch teachers march, wave signs and chant outside the School Services Building before the Antioch School Board meeting on Wednesday, January 20, 2016.

Antioch teachers march, wave signs and chant outside the School Services Building before the Antioch School Board meeting on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. photo by Allen Payton

By Nick Goodrich

A protest march by Antioch teachers was held before the Antioch School Board meeting Wednesday night, January 20th, during its first meeting of the new year. Holding signs that read things they’ve been speaking about at recent school board meetings, such as “Show Value to Your AUSD Teachers and Students,” “$ Recruit and Retain,” “Use Class Size Money to Lower Class Size,” and “Our Special Education Students Deserve Safe Class Sizes,” the teachers marched on the sidewalk surrounding the parking lot in front of the School Services Building, for a half hour before the meeting began. They chanted “What do we want? Respect. When do we want it? Now.”

The Board then began the meeting holding a ceremonial oath of office for new board member Fernando Navarro, and voted on a search firm to help select its new Superintendent on a 3-1 split, with Navarro dissenting. Trustee Debora Vinson was absent.

Navarro, who officially took his oath of office for his position on December 9th, last year during a special, early Board session, reenacted it so his family could witness the ceremony.

The January 20th meeting marked his first session as a participating member of the board, and he was the lone dissenting voice in several Board decisions throughout the evening. The meeting was also Diane Gibson-Gray’s first as President of the Board, with Walter Ruehlig serving as Vice President.

The meeting began with public comments from District employees, moved to the forefront due to the number of teachers that came to speak before the Board. Most of the teachers were protesting the District’s use of funds in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown’s newly released state budget.

Tech-certified teachers, who teach computer skills in elementary and middle schools, benefitted the most from the budget, receiving greater pay than many teachers who have worked in the District for 20 or 30 years, but without tech certification. In some cases, one teacher claimed, tech-certified teachers were being paid twice as much as veteran teachers.

“To keep new teachers coming in, the District needs to treat veteran teachers better,” she said.

Bob Carson, another teacher, noted that the Governor’s new budget marked the largest ever increase in the District’s budget, and that all Antioch teachers should benefit.

Other teachers decried the large class sizes of special education classes, telling the board that unless they adhere to a 20:1 ratio of students to teachers, then prospective teachers will be less attracted to the District and harder to hire.

One speaker, however, had something positive to say. Resident Frank Deluna spoke before the board and told of how his daughter, a student at Deer Valley High School, had been failing out of her Algebra class. After three weeks of enrollment in DVHS’s new after-school, math-intensive program, which received funding from the District late last year, Deluna reported that she was now getting A’s in her math class. He spoke highly of the program.

“She’s improved so much,” Deluna stated. “I would like for this program to be continued.”

After looking over the Governor’s new budget, the Board noted that they were in the midst of a 12-year decline in enrollment across the District, with most of the losses occurring in grades 9-12. Trustee Claire Smith asked the Board staff, as she has in previous meetings, where the students are leaving to; and was not pleased when there was as yet, no answer.

“The answer is always, ‘I don’t know,’” she said. “The City Council needs to get out in front of this. We have an image problem and a reputation problem. Maybe it’s time to get real.”

Board Hires Superintendent Search Firm

The Board discussed the institution of more comprehensive exit surveys to better discover where and why students are leaving, and plans to take action in future meetings.

The Board did, however, take action in its search for a new superintendent. After a thorough selection process, the School Board settled on the search firm Leadership Associates from among three candidates. Smith found that Leadership Associates were “highly professional” and was impressed at the level of experience they brought to the table. Ruehlig and Gibson-Gray agreed.

“We wanted the best and the brightest,” said Gibson-Gray.

Fernando Navarro was the sole dissenter in the 3-1 vote that brought Leadership Associates onboard. He argued that the Board should potentially look, first within the District for a new superintendent, rather than search for an outside hire, which would cost the Board significantly more than promoting someone from within and would bring in someone who knows the District well.

However, Smith stated that during conversations she had with several potential inside-hires, none were interested in the superintendent position, and Gibson-Gray added that she was willing to bear the extra cost of the search firm if it meant they could find the best talent in the state.

During the meeting, Navarro also brought up the possibility of moving the school board meetings to larger accommodations.

“This chamber seems a little small to meet our needs,” he noted.

Board meetings have been held in several different locations before, but none stuck. Board members cited a few reasons that they have remained in the School Services Building on G Street; cost, microphone and visual setups, and longer driving distances, were chief among them. Navarro mentioned the possibility of holding Board meetings in the City Council Chamber in downtown Antioch, but a possible location switch was not discussed further.

He also brought up the idea of televising Board meetings or webcasting them online, saying it could be a good idea to increase exposure to the Board and allow residents to be more informed and involved in District decisions. While the most of the Board seemed open to the idea, Smith said the Board had been over that before and it was just too costly. But, since it wasn’t on the agenda, the idea could not be fully discussed and would have to wait for a future meeting.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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