Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Teachers came to the Monday Millbrae Elementary School District Board of Trustees meeting to bring forward a no confidence vote in Superintendent Linda Luna.
Trustee Frank Barbaro holds a ‘With Confidence’ sign as the Millbrae Teachers Association presents its no confidence vote in the superintendent.
In the latest series of events connected to the climate concerns in the Millbrae Elementary School District, the districtwide teachers association presented a vote of no confidence in the superintendent.
The executive board of the Millbrae Education Association, consisting of certificated staff from all five of the district school sites, voted to declare a resolution Jan. 27 of no confidence in Superintendent Linda Luna because of dissatisfaction with her job performance. It shared the resolution to a crowd of nearly 100 at a Monday night meeting.
“There are just two words I want to repeat tonight — acknowledge and resolution,” Taylor Middle School teacher Julie Nestor said at the meeting. “Here we are nearly two months later (after the Taylor teachers’ no confidence vote) and there has been no communication with Taylor. You’re ignoring our words and this situation has expanded. We want to work together toward a resolution.”
Luna said in terms of the concerns written from the MEA, many had to do with competitive compensation and rising costs in health benefits.
“The district, of course, shares these same concerns as we want so much to compensate our employees and restore staff and programs from all these years of cuts,” she said in an email. “Both compensation and rising costs of health benefits are concerns of our entire state and affect all of us. The district is working hard to compensate all employees and stay fiscally solvent in our multi-year projected budget.”
A push for change in the treatment of teachers and other staff was sparked by the December 2013 resignation of Taylor Principal Lesley Martin, who some felt was intimidated by the superintendent and school board into leaving. On Dec. 4, 2013, the Taylor classified and certificated employees submitted a no confidence vote in Luna because of their fear she was not providing good leadership.
At the same meeting, the district voted to expand the contract with Pivot Learning Partners to include feedback from parents and staff at each of the five schools in the district, not just Taylor’s faculty and staff. The responsibilities and commitments will be performed at a cost not to exceed $15,000, $5,000 more than the original contract.
The data collected from this survey will be compiled, analyzed and communicated in a report to the board. A preliminary report will be completed as soon as possible and no later than March 1. Recommendations will not be part of the preliminary report. The preliminary report can be reviewed by the superintendent, the district governance team and other appropriate staff members to determine strategies for improvement in school climate.
“I’m concerned to see the community ripped apart,” said Taylor parent Laurie Giammona. “I’m pleased with the climate survey, but concerned it delays what may be the inevitable. I’m concerned we don’t have an action plan moving forward. Lesley Martin may have a legacy of mobilizing parents to get involved.”
When the association brought forward the no confidence resolution, Trustee Frank Barbaro held up a poster that stated “With Confidence” in opposition to the No Confidence vote, along with a sticker stating the same thing.
“I’m very disappointed with the sticker and poster,” said Taylor parent Charles Taylor. “It doesn’t show a willingness to acknowledge the problem and move forward.”
Barbaro proceeded to applaud himself. There were also moments during the meeting when Barbaro argued with various audience members. Board President Denis Fama at one point said, “let’s try to keep civil here.”
Barbaro later apologized, but said he didn’t want to be attacked.
“I’ve been emotional and unprofessional at times,” he said. “I’ve been emotional because I care about the staff and I’m having a hard time understanding. I want the survey to go through; I want to hear everybody clear. The problem I have is I have a feeling one employee (Luna) has been personally attacked.”
Fama still had some concerns about board relations with teachers and parents.
“My biggest fear is that we can’t heal this thing,” Fama said. “I don’t want to live that kind of life as a trustee.”
The no confidence vote by the group, that is the local branch of the California Teachers Association, notes district teachers’ salaries are not keeping pace with soaring salaries for administrators and that health benefit inequalities also exist.
“MEA members are concerned that the superintendent has failed to take any action about staff’s increasing concerns about the rising costs in health benefits, even though it has been repeatedly brought to her attention that the district’s contribution to an employees’ health benefits is essentially the lowest in the county. MEA is also concerned that some highly compensated top district office staff receive the district maximum contribution for family coverage regardless of whether or not they actually take family coverage,” according to the no confidence resolution presented to the board.
Trustee Jay Price rushed to defend Luna.
“She is being labeled the bad guy when she has the most difficult job of all,” Price said. “We must work together because divided we fail.”
There were also concerns raised about the district’s inability to secure substitute teachers at Spring Valley Elementary School. Some recounted teachers having to supervise 60 students at a time for teachers who didn’t have secured substitutes.
“This breaks state laws,” said parent Karen Chin. “There have been excuses, but not solutions. There’s been no response at all communicated with how to solve the problem. It’s an unacceptable response to say ‘this happens.’ The response has been callousness when people (staff) leave.”
The resolution addressed this concern, stating members are concerned that issues directly affecting the educational quality of the district are not addressed when brought to the superintendent’s attention.
“For example, the issue of a lack of substitutes in our district has been brought to the superintendent’s attention repeatedly with MEA’s suggestions for solving the problem,” the resolution states. “Yet nothing has been done.”
‘Hurt in this room’
Meanwhile, some board members believe change is necessary, including Vice President Lynne Ferrario. She said she is anxious for the climate survey to have some data and ultimately make changes.
“There’s so much hurt in this room; all over the place,” Ferrario said at the Monday meeting. “I know it’s about feelings, I know it’s about something that’s much bigger than what we’re hearing right now. … You’re right, we have not gone down to Taylor to talk to the staff and we made a promise on Jan. 10 to do that. I’m hoping we can make these changes and I think we can; we’re going to be better for it.”
On the other hand, Trustee Don Revelo said people can’t let their emotions get the better of their thought processes. He also noted no one ever applies for the job of trustee, so he sees it difficult for the public to complain.
“I don’t like a lot of what we have to do and trustee comments are not the board making a statement or the board making policy or intent,” he said. “I would hope we have the right to express a thought if it is counter to what others think.”
Meanwhile, Taylor physical education and health teacher Petra Kretschmer said the district used to be like a family and the board would be hard-pressed to find more teachers who care as much as she does.
The resolution goes on to state that members are concerned about transparency in the district’s budget within the context of contract negotiations with its members.
“For example, the Nov. 8, 2013, to Jan. 14, 2014, budget projections provided to the MEA negotiating team by the district failed to include the quarter of a million dollars of interest earned on 1 Alp Way money that was historically intended for teacher salaries,” it stated.
The district’s Classified School Employees Association also presented a no confidence vote at the meeting by 59 percent of its workers. About 85 percent of this districtwide members staff voted, 21 percent in confidence of superintendent and 20 percent abstained.
“In terms of the no confidence vote from the CSEA, I work with five CSEA staff on a daily basis and have very good relationships with the district office staff,” Luna said in the email. “I am always open to meet and hear from staff about any concerns and ideas for our district. I would welcome time with staff anytime.”
The school district’s next meeting is Monday, Feb. 24.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105