OAKHURST — Even as the Superintendent has reportedly requested leave from her assigned duties, a group is rallying to effect change within the struggling Yosemite Unified School District. Community members have organized for regular meetings, and they want more people to get involved.
On Monday, Feb. 5, at a Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees, the most-recently-hired Superintendent requested and was granted a leave for reasons which have not been disclosed at this time. Cecelia Greenberg was brought on in May of 2017 following the departure of Jim Sargent. Whether Greenberg is on paid or unpaid leave is unknown at this time.
According to a letter reported to have been sent out by the district, the Board of Trustees is working with the Madera County Superintendent of Schools Office and have their Administrator, Fred Cogan, on Special Assignment to address ongoing district operations and needs.
Among the trials facing YUSD, last month the Madera County Superintendent of Schools (MCSOS) changed the certification of the district’s First Interim report for the current fiscal year to negative, assigned a fiscal adviser, and outlined requirements the district must follow in a timely manner, in order to recover from its broadening financial crisis.
To further their ongoing discussions on the ability, or inability, of the current District Trustees to manage this fiscal crisis and merry-go-round of administration, the YUSD Citizen Action Team will meet on Thursday, Feb. 8 in the Raley’s Community Center Conference Room at 6 p.m. as they try to right the district ship which, if not sinking, is certainly swamped.
The group also asks that the community attend the next meeting of the YUSD Board of Trustees on Monday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the District Office.
“I have grave concerns for my children’s education, the future of the district’s schools, and ultimately the significant impact this will have on the small businesses and property taxes of people in the YUSD communities,” explains Bradley Norlander, the parent of a current student at Yosemite High School, and an 8th grader at Wasuma Elementary in the Bass Lake School District, which feeds into YHS. “As a result, I have volunteered to support the activities of the group.”
Equally active in the weeks-old organization are Anita Johnson and Bill Rothfuss, both parents of students in the district, along with others who are engaged in the efforts. Emphasizing that district stability is critical for the entire community, not just parents and teachers, the citizen’s group hope that residents and leaders in business, arts, and nonprofits will get involved and stay involved.
With three community action meetings under their belt, the citizen’s group has had about 20 people in attendance at each gathering, and expect to see that number grow. The group is comprised of concerned parents and community members from all walks of life, most of whom had never met before the fiscal disaster became apparent.
“At each meeting we have welcomed new faces with new purposes and new concerns,” Norlander says. “We have had community members that are retirees, parents of elementary school students, and parents of high school students that participate in a variety of academic programs such as IB and AP classes, CTE programs, and the Arts. The common thread that binds all the meeting participants is the fiscal irresponsibility of the YUSD Board of Trustees. We hope to support the long-term future of YUSD schools and to raise awareness to try to limit the long-term impact of this fiscal crisis on the broader community.”
It’s the group’s intention is to be a “grassroots clearinghouse,” say organizers, compiling information for community members and parents so that people can understand, in real time, the dynamic crisis that the school district is facing.
“Many members of the community are concerned that the current Board members, with the exception of a newly-appointed Area 4 Trustee, have not upheld the roles and responsibilities of their position, as defined by YUSD policy,” Norlander says.
“The district is approaching insolvency and has disorganized administration, resulting in the county stepping in to oversee fiscal processes. If the district cannot solve the problem with county oversight, the state will get involved and this will not be good for the schools or the community.”
Two current board members have a term up in 2020: Trustee Tammy Loveland representing Area 3, and Trustee Christine Wilder representing Area 2.
Johnson and Rothfuss calculate that, based on time constraints, those two seats could be the focus of a November recall election by their area citizens.
“The recall process would not be good for the community and is not the primary goal of the group,” Norlander affirms. “The goal is to ensure leadership that can successfully move this district forward.”
The Board has experienced a change in leadership already this year, following last year’s resignation of Joe Smith and his recent replacement as Area 4 Trustee, when parent and long-time school volunteer Stacey Montalto was appointed to the position by the Board. Hers is an interim position which will be up for election in November.
“Stacey’s efforts to begin to unravel the fiscal mess that her predecessor left should be appreciated,” Norlander says, adding that the wish of the citizen’s group, respectfully, is for the remaining elected Board of Trustees to step down. As when Joe Smith resigned, applications will be accepted from community members who would like to apply for the interim position until a general election is held in November 2018.
Organizers in the citizen’s group believe that new leadership within the District will provide a clarified vision for the future, aid in navigating out County control, and refocus the District on the education of students, now and in the future. They re-envision a board who will commit to fiscal responsibility, successfully recruit competent and stable administrators, and reestablish productive communication with the community and restore public trust.
With talk of recall, comes the concern for cost in a district that’s already experiencing major financial woes.
To that end, Norlander points out that the financial burden of recall petitions can be completely avoided by the resignation of the remaining board of trustee members.
“Fiscal irresponsibility on the Board of Trustees and their administrators has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt,” he posits. “Given this situation, can the district really afford not to?”
Norlander spoke with County officials last week and was told that the County Clerk and Recorder estimated the cost of competitive elections this November, for all 5 area seats to be $32,000-$40,000. Assuming competitive elections for Areas 1 and 5, there is already going to be an election. Based on this information the average the cost of an election for a recalled Trustee would be about $8,000.
“Taxpayers must also remember that Trustees who are responsible for managing the district’s finances and avoiding insolvency have been collecting a monthly stipend of $240 and a monthly health insurance CAP of $876.66, for a total benefit of $10,520 per year. The question for our community is, how long do we want to keep paying board members that have brought our school district to the brink of fiscal insolvency and ushered in County oversight?”
As the oddly upside-down world of the District’s deepening turmoil is juxtaposed with students, teachers, staff and administrators continual efforts to educate our children, many in the community are unclear as to what’s happening, or how to jump in and help. Many are confused and some are afraid — valid feelings, according to Norlander.
“I would say that parents who are confused or afraid are paying attention! But both fear and confusion can be overcome by trying to learn more about the situation and getting involved. We really need more parents from Coarsegold and Rivergold elementary schools so that we can make sure that we support you and get the word out to you about what we’re doing. We are encouraging people to talk with their family, friends, and neighbors and to come out to Board meetings and the YUSD Citizen Action Team meetings to ask questions and share information.
The group really wants people to engage in conversation about their schools and to identify community-oriented solutions. Johnson and Rothfuss stress that this isn’t just about parents, students, teachers and school staff.
“This is also about the broader community, small businesses, real estate and property values. The schools are an essential part of the fabric that makes our communities strong and we can come together to keep them that way.
“Our communities are in a position right now where we have to work with the County and to show good faith that as a community we will partner with them and grow from this experience. As parents we intrinsically know what our children need from an education and it is not just reading, writing and arithmetic. We will have to work with each other long after this fiscal crisis has passed to ensure that our school district gets back on top and becomes fiscally sound and provides the education that all the students in our community need.”
People can get informed, say those who are already active, and volunteer to serve on committees that support the district, or by identifying themselves as potential candidates should other Board members resign.
In a small community filled with people who know each other well, it’s a painful time filled with angst. Action can be the antidote to despair.
“We often get passionate about things that involve our children, it seems to be a natural thing to do. We all want what’s best in our heart for our children and secondly we want what’s best for our community that we all love. When people are talking about asking for resignations or discussing potential recall processes, it really isn’t personal, it is so much bigger than the board members. There is no time for personal attacks, the clock is ticking on fiscal insolvency and the quality of our schools. There are major community issues that need to be addressed, and we need leaders to figure out how to get us out of this mess.”
For more information contact SAVEYUSD@gmail.com. You may also call Anita Johnson at (559) 760-6848 if you want to get involved.
The meeting schedule is:
Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. at Raley’s Community center conference room.
Thursday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. at Raley’s Community center conference room.
Thursday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. Special meeting focusing on bringing together community non-profit, foundation, and fundraising leaders to discuss long-term ideas for the organization of a community foundation platform to support the students, parents, staff, and teachers of the district (not supporting district deficit spending).