School community clashes over teacher firings

District planning to revisit staff evaluations

Photo by Samantha Bengtson/Gonzales Tribune
Parents, staff and students gather in the Gonzales High School library to support teachers who were going to be let go at the end of the school year.

GONZALES — Gonzales Unified School District is planning to revisit letting three employees go after more than 200 Gonzales parents, teachers and students attended the Feb. 26 School Board meeting out of protest.

The original vote would have seen three school employees not return for the 2018-19 school year and was passed by a majority of the board members. According to Board Trustee Wendy Franscioni, the board will look at the individual cases again, but she is not certain that the outcome will change.

“There were 11 teachers up for non-reelect at that meeting,” Franscioni said. “Teachers who are not tenured (less than two years in the district) must be notified by March 15 if they will not be retained. Those who are in their second year of service will automatically tenure when they begin their third year of service.”

On Feb. 26, due to the number of attendees, the meeting was moved from the Gonzales High School Library to the Cafeteria. Community members held signs calling for keeping the teachers employed and asking to put students first.

Mariana Nunez, a parent, said in Spanish that she supported one of the teachers, Ms. Garcia. Nunez has a son in Garcia’s class because she has seen her son make progress and get a lot of help from Garcia.

“The teacher has helped him with the work and he is now more focused,” Nunez said. “The teacher finds ways to motivate him and now he wants to be a police officer.”

English teacher Gina Brown said, “It is wrong what has occurred at this school and in this district. At this point it no longer matters if the errors in the budget to the tune of $2 million surplus for at least the past five years were by accident or not. What matters is what we can do to rectify it.”

Superintendent Liz Modena denies the claim that $2 million was carried over every year. Modena said that when funds are not fully utilized as planned, it can create a fund balance at year-end closing. The budget is submitted to the Monterey County Office of Education for review and acceptance. In the district’s Budget Fact Sheet, it stated that the district could keep 3 percent in reserve, which would be $1,060,193 and would be short of the cost of a month of the district’s operating expenses projected to equal $2,944,979.

The second interim report for 2017-18 that will presented March 12 combines the state and board reserve for economic uncertainties to $2,120,386. 

“No one can spend money without the authorization of the board, who reviews and questions or should question the request for funds,” Modena said. “We stand behind the purchases and expenditures we have made and do not consider them to be a waste of funds.”

The Budget Fact Sheet also states that all staff, including teachers, receive a total of 14.5 percent in salary increases — 4 percent for the first three years from 2013 to 2016 and then 2.5 percent in 2016-17. The fact sheet was prepared by Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mary Dawson.

Brown continued by saying the History textbooks still refer to Former President Barack Obama as Sen. Obama and the Biology textbooks were the same that she had used as a high school student.

“We are all trying to serve these kids but there are just not enough of us,” Brown said. “In a teacher shortage like the ones we are currently facing, if we continue to pay less than surrounding districts, we will not be getting the best teachers, if any at all. Personally, I chose to stay in here in Gonzales because I love my kids.”

“You have a history of letting go of quality teachers and not looking at their test scores,” said CTA President Che Rodriguez. “For example, I have a cousin who’s gone through Ms. Robinson’s class. She loved it and learned a lot, and you’re letting her go?”

Modena also said that she could not share details about personnel matters or evaluation procedures in reviewing a teacher’s performance.

“In this time of teacher shortages, we do not make the decision to recommend non-rehire lightly,” Modena said. “We follow the Fair Employment and Housing Act guidelines.”

As for the comment about the History and Biology textbooks being outdated, Modena said there is a systematic policy and procedure in place for text adoption that the Gonzales Unified School District follows.

“Not only do we have a set timeline for each textbook cycle, but teachers are also involved by piloting selected programs,” Modena said. “Currently we are in the process of adopting textbooks that are on cycle and we are awaiting the release of new textbooks based on state adoption. Social Studies teachers are currently piloting texts from various publishers and we are poised to purchase new books for the 2018-19 school year.”

The science teachers are waiting for the state to release new textbooks aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards that is scheduled for adoption during the next school year.

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