About 10 parents, staff and student advocates lambasted Yosemite Unified School District trustees and newly hired Superintendent, Dr. Cecilia Greenberg, at Monday’s board meeting attended by about 100 people.
A common theme of frustration, anger and anxiety was shared by the speakers along with a call for more transparency and better communication from Greenberg and the board.
Yosemite Union Teacher’s Association President Gina Hansen-Sedor said she is concerned about the district spending money on new positions, special projects and outside agencies, and that the board of trustees are approving such items without reason.
Prior to the meeting, Hansen-Sedor said the process has begun on potentially recalling all five of the district’s trustees due to that lack of transparency, poor leadership by the district’s new superintendent, and continued financial concerns she said haven’t been addressed.
Greenberg has arranged for Fiscal Crises and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), a government agency established to assist school districts on financial and other matters, to come to the district the week of Oct. 3, to conduct an audit and make recommendations concerning the district’s finances.
Tony Misner, who has been an adult education teacher in the district for more than 25 years, made a strong statement about the frustrations of the entire teaching staff in the district with regards to staffing changes, and the refusal of the board members and superintendent to address the concerns that have been voiced since the beginning of the school year.
“What you are hearing tonight is the frustration of the staff and parents with the board,” Misner said. “ All we want is to be able to teach our students in a healthy and safe environment. Remember, you are our elected officials and she (Greenberg) works for you, you do not work for her.”
“I submit we have a recall vote and we re-elect (board members),” said Nathan Nielsen, a parent with two children enrolled in the district. He challenged those in attendance to “put our rights and freedoms into practice and that’s going to cost us something . . . You have failed the community,” he sternly told board members.
The current board is currently made up of President Christine Wilder, Tammy Loveland, Monika Moulin, Joe Smith, and John Reynolds. Smith was absent from the meeting.
Three elementary school parents spoke passionately about concerns for the safety of their children, and four staff members addressed the board expressing frustration with, among other things, delineation of the responsibilities of the school’s leadership and money spent on outside service providers.
Joe Szabadi, a parent with two daughters at Coarsegold Elementary School, spoke of bullying by a group of boys at the school, and one of his daughters being sexually assaulted four years ago. Due to continued verbal harassment, he recently pulled one of his daughters out of the district, placing her in Mountain Home School Charter.
A mother with two children at Coarsegold told the board, “My kids don’t feel safe going to school ... they are scared to go to the bathroom because of being bullied.”
“There is frustration when we bring something to people’s attention and we get ignored,” said Mike Sesto, the parent of a paraplegic second grader.
He cited hazards his son has had to face when navigating the Coarsegold campus.
Amy Weigel, an alternative education teacher, asked a question raised at a previous board meeting.
“We asked for a flow chart of management job descriptions so we could know exactly what the new people are doing,” Weigel said. “I would like to know when that will be provided. I and others have written to each of you (board members) regarding our serious concerns about the hostile work environment and bullying of our adult education principal, Dr. Stacy Nicol, by Dr. Greenberg. I have not received any response to my letter.”
Weigel added that the decision does not make any sense, and is a disrespectful way to treat the part of the district that has been generating desperately needed ADA.
“While Dr. Greenberg sent us a letter this week with the intent to increase transparency, the convoluted language, the time spent reiterating how bad things are and what a mess she has inherited, instead of telling us anything concrete she is doing, served to further frustrate us,” Weigel said. “It was insulting to give us a laundry list of a multitude of vague possibilities to fix the district and then offer an upcoming survey monkey to get input.”
Another teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said the district is going to lose very good veteran teachers because of Greenberg’s lack of leadership.
Chukchansi Tribe Education Director Kathleen Kabbani asked “Who is the leadership? The tribe has over 100 students enrolled in the district, and when I sent an email to three of the board members expressing concern about the support needs of some of those students, I did not receive one response. I did receive an email from our superintendent.”
All the people who spoke during the ‘public comment’ portion of the meeting received loud applause from those in the audience.
In anticipation of the large number of people expected to attend the meeting, for the second time this school year, the meeting was moved from the board room in the administration building to the theater building.
At one point, when the conversation between one of the speakers and Wilder became a little heated, the sheriff’s department was called, and four deputies quickly arrived at the meeting.
Superintendent and board response
A collaborative prepared statement from Greenberg and the board to the Sierra Star, focused primarily on the district budget and earlier errors in accounting.
“We share their desires for the best education for their students,” read the statement. “At the same time, the school board also realizes there are significant challenges to the budget, which have resulted in unprecedented changes and challenges to the personnel of the district. It was discovered that in the school year 2015-16, errors in accounting and compliance within the district were made and brought to the district’s attention through the Federal Program Monitoring Review.
“While it was hoped that these challenges were resolved during the 2016-17 school year, the state has determined that errors were not in fact satisfactorily addressed. And as a result, vital funding has been withheld. Under the direction of Dr. Greenberg, certain personnel throughout the district have been temporarily reassigned to address these issues in a timely manner so that Dr. Greenberg can appear before the California State Board of Education in November and have these matters resolved.
“Without this effort, the district is at risk of losing irreplaceable funds and may be at risk of penalties or full reimbursement from the district for the 2015-16 errors. Additionally, personnel are working on the 2017-18 Federal Program Review, which must be completed by December. The school board and superintendent realize this is a significant change to the start of the school year, and the hope is that the dollars in question will be resolved quickly and satisfactorily.”
NOTE: The slideshow presentation made by Superintendent Greenberg during the meeting, which addresses some of these concerns will be made available on the school’s website: www.yosemiteusd.com.