In a surprise move, Lodi Unified trustees voted Wednesday to hold off a year to make drastic changes at Lawrence and Sutherland elementary schools. Both were named by the state among the persistently lowest performing, and mandated to subscribe to one of four intervention models to receive grants.
The 4-2 decision was made in front of an over-capacity crowd wearing pink to protest budget cuts. Three private security guards and two armed Lodi Police officers were also on hand.
Trustee Jeff Thompson recommended the delay based primarily on not wanting to accept another government mandate nor the timeline to adhere to it.
"I see this as another case of bait and switch. I have no confidence in our state at this time," he said. "The state and the federal government need to get their act together.
"The best education is determined locally," he said.
If the district planned to apply for grants of up to $2 million per school, the board was required to choose one of the four models with hopes of improving student achievement. Among those was the turnaround model in which the district would replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the current staff.
Other options included converting the campuses into charter schools, or closing them and moving students to other schools within the district.
But the government-set deadline not only caused concerns with the teachers' union that would have to rework contract language in a short time period, but with board members.
"I'm torn to approve this with so many uncertainties," said board president Richard Jones, who said it add demands to staff to prepare the document in a mere 25 days. The 67-page grant applications are due June 1 with the state making a final determination of who will receive the money in mid-July. Lodi Unified's school year starts July 27.
Thompson called the process set forth "sketchy" and unfair to district staff.
Among the dozen parents and students who spoke at the meeting was Diane Espara. When she attended Lawrence, she said, test scores too were low.
"We're not blaming the teachers or looking for a scapegoat. All we want is a change. We want the students to have higher grades and do better," Espara said.
If test scores do not improve in 2010-11, the district can re-examine applying for the same funding.
Rio Valley Charter School approved
Earlier in the meeting, it was decided after all that Rio Valley Charter School will be allowed to operate under a charter secured with the district. It was a complete turnaround from the last meeting, when trustees essentially denied the proposal with a tie vote.
It was only back on the agenda because board member Joe Nava, among the dissenters, requested it be re-heard after he learned there was a waiting list for the district's current independent study program.
"We need to meet the needs of those students waiting," he said Wednesday of the 40 such students.
Rio Valley Charter School has sought to serve the district's non-traditional students in an independent-style program. It likely won't open until the 2011-12 school year because of a missed filing deadline, according to executive director Paul Keefer.
Representatives came to the April 20 board meeting anticipating final approval since they had been working with the district for months to secure an agreement.
But in an 11th-hour decision, three of the six board members opted to not accept the charter's petition. Among the reasons dissenters Nava, Ken Davis and Jones gave were a potential loss in federal funding due and the belief the services were already being offered by Independence High School.
While it wasn't quite the turnout some had hoped for, teachers, parents, even students packed the meeting clad in pink shirts hoping to send a message to trustees about layoffs and other budget cuts.
Also on the agendaIn other action Wednesday, the Lodi Unified school board:
— Created a surplus property advisory committee to secure a long-term lease of the now-vacant Turner Elementary School.
— Recognized a number of students, including Julia Morgan sixth-graders Megan Metrovich and Mattie Mierkey, who won an annual playwriting contest. Their work is being played out at more than 200 schools in Northern California.
— Congratulated the outgoing student representatives of the school board.
— Presented plaques to classified school employees of the year. Among them, Mary Patterson, cafeteria manager; Debra Rouppet, maintenance and operations; Nancy Sheehan, principal secretary; Julie Herrera, paraeducator; and Margie Duran, bus driver.
At the beginning of the meeting, Jones alluded to the room's capacity regulations and directed people to an overflow area complete with computer monitors and speakers.
The district not only set up extra chairs in the adjoining room, but hired three private security guards. The two Lodi Police officers on hand said they were on unpaid overtime and, like the guards, stayed more than three hours.
One teacher had publicly said he wanted to get the board's attention and have so many people attend that the fire marshal would have to shut the meeting down.
Throughout the meeting, Mitch Slater, director of maintenance and operation, kept a steady audience member count. Although the maximum posted capacity is 152, there were well over 160 among the standing room-only crowd.
Senior projects eliminated
With little discussion, the board voted to eliminate the senior project as a graduation requirement. It will save the district close to $70,000 annually.
Tokay High School teacher Sue Brown said earlier this week that the program has not only improved the district's curriculum, but provided pre-job training and collected thousands for local nonprofits.
But Assistant Superintendent Bill Atterberry, who provided the board with a full report April 20, said he favored its elimination partly due to the district costs. Years ago, it was primarily funded by private businesses when the senior project was a collaboration, but the economy has affected those efforts, according to Atterberry.
Additionally, the school board last year reduced senior project funding by eliminating additional staffing. Now, he added, teachers don't have the time to handle the projects.
The program, which includes a substantial writing portion and panel presentation, started 16 years ago and became a graduation requirement in 2000. Since then, the project has been among recommended budget cuts more than once.
Trustee Bonnie Cassel said Wednesday it has run its course. She was the only person on the board or in the audience to publicly discuss the item.
She faulted the size of the high school English classes at 40 students as the project's demise.
Board plans for new trustee in June
Also on Wednesday, the board adopted a calendar with plans to seat a new trustee in mid-June. Applications will be accepted starting Saturday.
Harvey Bills Sr. recently resigned from his elected position representing trustee area No. 6. The remaining trustees have decided to make a provisional appointment until a candidate can run for election to a two-year seat in November. Bills' term would have expired in 2012.
Letters of interest along with resumes will be accepted beginning Saturday, by mail or in person, addressed to the Board of Education, Lodi Unified School District, 1305 E. Vine St., Lodi, 95240. The deadline to apply is noon on May 28. Applicants must reside in Area 6 to be eligible for consideration. That includes Elkhorn and Podesto Ranch schools in North Stockton.
The appointee will serve until the next board election in November. At that time, he or she could file as a candidate and run for election to finish out the term of office, which expires in November 2012.
Applicants will be screened and interviewed by the three-member sub-committee made up of trustees Ken Davis, Nava and Cassel with plans to recommend and vote on a provisional appointee June 15. He or she will be administered the Oath of Office and seated at the same meeting.
To view the boundaries of the open seat, visit www.lodiusd.net and click on "Board of Education."
The next regular board meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday.