On Monday night during a special board meeting of the Yosemite Unified School District, trustees interviewed three candidates who submitted applications to fill the Area 4 board seat vacated with the retirement of Joe Smith. The position would be for 10 months, and the person filling the seat and anyone else interested in running in the November election, would have to file election papers between July 16 and Aug. 10.
The candidates were Denise Cudd, Dan Rogers and Stacey Montalto and for nearly two hours the candidates answered a variety of questions from trustees, President Tammy Loveland, John Reynolds, Monika Moulin and Christine Wilder and members of the 100+ audience. The candidates explained their philosophy on the importance of public education and each spoke to the role of the board of trustees.
Cudd, a Yosemite High graduate, spoke about her years as a credentialed school teacher and her 15 years working in the district, stating “I think this board needs an educator on it.” She said she would make a good liaison to “build a bridge” between the board and the teachers in the district, and that communication between board members and the staff is extremely important.
“People can handle the reasons for certain things happening, but they need to know about what’s going on,’ Cudd said. “I can hit the ground running and don’t need to be trained.”
She said the teachers in the district are dedicated, and the students are high achievers with wonderful parents.
Montalto spoke of her years of public school experience, including five years as board treasurer for Pacifica Community Charter School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“In that position, I was responsible for managing all budgets and preparing and submitting required financial and compliance reports to the district, county, and state education offices,” Montalto said.
Since moving to Oakhurst, Montalto has served as a member of the Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District Budget Committee, as founding member and secretary of the YHS International Baccalaureate Parent Organization, and founder/president of the YHS Band Boosters.
“This district offers a wealth of opportunities to its students,” Montalto said, adding that the qualities she would bring to the board would include integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, problem solving, persistence and her organizational skills.
Montalto’s daughters Meagan and Kelsey, attended Oak Creek Intermediate and Yosemite High School. Kelsey is in her senior year at YHS and Meagan is a sophomore at the University of California San Diego.
Rogers, an attorney and adjunct professor at San Joaquin College of Law, moved his family to Oakhurst 25 years ago to go to work for Sierra Online. His wife, Holly, is the librarian at Coarsegold Elementary School and their three children all graduated from YHS and went on to universities.
“The residents of the area are like the stockholders of a company and the superintendent is like the president of the company and has to fulfill the board’s wishes,” Rogers said. “The board has to allow the superintendent to do the job but also has to watch over those duties.”
Trustee Wilder thanked the three candidates for their participation in the process and said the selection would not be an easy choice.
When it was time for trustees to individually name the person they preferred to fill the Area 4 seat on the board, Reynolds said his choice was Rogers, followed by Moulin’s choice of Rogers, also. Wilder selected Montalto and Loveland wanted Cudd. When it appeared that Rogers would be named the new trustee, Rogers suddenly withdrew his candidacy, which had Reynolds and Moulin switch their support to Montalto.
“It was clear to me we had three good candidates, and honestly I looked at Denise and Stacey’s energy, passion and competency, so when the vote came down and it was split, I felt we needed a unanimous decision,” Rogers said, “and the best course was for me to step away feeling that either Denise or Stacey would be competent in the position. At the end of the night I felt I made a great decision for the community and for the board. I’m excited about Montalto being in that position.”
“I am looking forward to investing my time and talents to ensure that Yosemite Unified School District regains financial stability and continues to offer the excellent programs and opportunities my family moved here to experience,” Montalto said after the meeting. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the district at this critical juncture, and believe that my experience will enable me to learn quickly and make an immediate impact. My first priority is to establish transparency around district finances and board decision making - we must regain the community’s trust and support to weather this storm and build a strong and successful future.”
In addition to her school board experiences, her professional experience includes: 10 years of non-profit performing arts management, ultimately managing annual operating budgets of $2-3 million and a $12 million capital improvement project in Southern California; 10 years as a general management consultant with Towers Perrin; and 12 years in her current role as systems manager/business analyst for the talent department of The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated. She holds a BA from Cornell University and an MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA.
The board then went into closed session to discuss district Superintendent Dr. Cecelia Greenberg’s performance evaluation and to have a conference with district legal counsel about significant exposure to an anticipated litigation. No announcement was made when the board came out of the closed session.
Madera County Superintendent of Schools Cecilia A Massetti recently notified the district that based on a number of reason, including a review of financial data, she was changing the district’s self-certified financial First Interim Report from “Qualified” to “Negative.”
Federal Program Monitoring review
With many financial challenges hanging over the Yosemite Unified School District like a dark cloud, the district received a little ray of sunshine Dec. 19 with a ‘clean’ Federal Program Monitoring (FPM) review for 2015-16 from the California Department of Education (CDE).
At stake was $500,000 in Title 1 funding for the district due to a large volume of mandatory state reports that were a year overdue, long before district Greenberg was hired in June. The funding was never lost, but the district was told in no uncertain terms, the mountain of documents from 2015-16 that were never completed needed immediate attention to keep the feds happy and to be assured of future funding.
Title 1 funds are the largest single federal categorical funds received by the district for a number of educational programs.
The review process took four months to go through 335 documents that were uploaded for district review, and the good news that the work is completed was presented last Friday morning by Beth Anselmi and Lorene Euerle from the CDE’s federal program monitoring office.
Anselmi said there were 50 elements that the monitoring office reviewed, and only four had findings that would require attention by the district - two of which are very minor.
“This is an outstanding review,” Anselmi said. “This administration walked into a nightmare. They were swimming up a waterfall and now are at the top.”
Tracy McCully, a retired employee of the Madera County Office of Education, where she served as the director of categorical programs, was sent to the district to help with the project. The County Office of Education paid an estimated $50,000 for her four months of service to the district.
“This is much needed good news,” said Loveland. “I am so grateful to district staff who worked tirelessly for many many hours to get these FPM compliance issues cleaned up.”
“When I first met with California Department of Education (CDE) and discovered the sheer volume of work with very short time-lines that had to be done, it was daunting,” Greenberg said. “When I later learned that I had to appear before the State Board of Education as one of two districts that were 400+ days overdue for clearing up the 2015/16 findings and that we could lose approximately $500,000, I was very discouraged.”
The situation was so bleak, Greenberg admitted that with the amount of surprises that kept cropping up, she had a fleeting thought that her research (on the district) had not uncovered all these issues and if it had, she might not have accepted the job offer to be the district’s new superintendent on July 1.
Greenberg said that over the four-month period of time, the district found the right administrator mix to get the job done.
“This district and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Although some of this work was not in their job descriptions, they rolled up their sleeves and began working with staff and community members to complete the 2015/16 FPM, as well as the 2017/18 FPM,” Greenberg said. “The Madera County Office of Education was also helpful by providing invaluable assistance through the use of a contracted retiree, and the California Department of Education was prompt in answering our questions. Without being melodramatic, I cannot emphasize enough the sheer volume of work that was completed in just a few months.”
The next regular board meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 12, in the YHS library.
Recall team formed
About 20 community members attended the first meeting of the Yosemite Unified School District Community Action Team for Change Jan. 17 at Round Table Pizza, with its focus on a recall of one or more of the district trustees, according to Anita Johnson, committee chairperson.
While the community group agreed that there are many challenges with the current YUSD board of trustees, initially the unanimous agreement was the need to work together to encourage the current YUSD board to be transparent in their immediate actions and intentions with the looming fiscal crisis.
“The Negative Certification Letter dated Jan.12, from Dr. Massetti is confirmation that the board needs to resign now. There are simply no more chances to “kick the can down the street” and blame someone else for the mismanagement of the district. We are at a critical juncture and we must have trained and certified leadership on the board ready to go,” Johnson said.
The group will meet again at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 24, in the Raley’s Community Room.
Details: Anita Johnson, (559) 760-6848 or visit “Recall YUSD Board” Facebook page.