Outspoken district critic and new trustee George Neely was voted by his peers president of the Lodi Unified School District board Tuesday. He will conduct each meeting and informally act as the board’s spokesman.
“Let’s get it done,” Neely said, shortly after being seated and echoing the audience chants regarding stalled negotiations.
“Boy how things change,” he added, looking out on a sea of blue T-shirts.
Among the first action Neely and fellow new board members made was setting an informal meeting with classified union members, district negotiators and trustees in order to bring new board members to speed regarding ongoing negotiations.
The 6-1 vote was met with a standing ovation by union members, who had packed the meeting wearing matching T-shirts emblazoned with a growling dog and the word “attitude.” Others held up signs demanding a fair contract.
Employees have been without a labor contract since June. Earlier this month, after a failed fact-finding session, the district offered its so-called best and last offer.
When asked to adopt an instructional calendar for 2010-11 and approve a resolution that would have officially restored prior union concessions based upon the availability of current one-time resources, trustee Bonnie Cassel asked both items be tabled in favor of the meeting.
“I want us to understand what the problem is,” she said of negotiations. “Call me Pollyanna, if you will. I want to see this informational meeting happen shortly after the New Year.”
Noticeably missing from the resolution was the more than $5 million in cuts classified union leaders say have already been imposed.
“We’ve negotiated fairly. We’ve offered concessions,” Dan Morris, California School Employees Association representative, told the new board.
But five of the seven members have not been privy to these closed-door discussions as they were only sworn in Tuesday.
In the end, trustee Ken Davis voted against tabling a vote on the instructional calendar and voiced concerns whether there would be public negotiating during the proposed meeting.
But Cassel said approving the calendar without a contract with the classified union would be disrespectful since furlough days have been included. She termed the failure thus far to reach an agreement “a crisis.”
“There is a new beginning tonight,” she said. “The thousands of audience members and community members who voted for us was a strong mandate for change.”
Just after the new trustees were sworn in, board member Joe Nava nominated Cassel for the position of board president, but she declined due to the ailing health of her 89-year-old mother. She instead was chosen vice president by a unanimous vote.
Other new board members include Ruth Davis, Ron Heberle and Michael Abdallah. Cassel was the only incumbent re-elected. It is the first time since the spring that the board has had seven voting members, a fact not missed by Nava.
“I feel complete now,” he said at the beginning of the meeting.
Since before he announced his candidacy in the spring, Neely has attended meetings and asked pointed budget questions of trustees and staff. Although he is best known for his position as an elementary school teacher — which he resigned from Tuesday to take his seat on the board — Neely also has a business background and serves as the president of the Lodi Public Library.
He won the seat in November after running against Dana Ann Baker. Despite pulling out of the race, former trustee Richard Jones’ name still appeared on the ballot.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.