Teachers bring picket to school board

Teachers bring picket to school board

Michele Ellson
Alameda school board

Teachers brought last week’s pre-school picket to the school board on Tuesday, with dozens of sign-waving teachers packed into the back of council chambers as parents spoke on their behalf.

Parents said they moved to Alameda for high-quality schools and that they have come to love their teachers, and they want district leaders to offer them more support in the classroom and at the bargaining table, where the union and district administrators are expected to meet Friday.

“Our teachers fight for our kids. We need you to fight for our teachers, because you make the decisions,” said Samantha Hermosillo, whose two small children accompanied her to the podium as she spoke to the board.

Teachers responded to Hermosillo’s comments and those of other parents who spoke for them with loud cheers, waving signs that said “Respect for teachers,” “It’s not just about the money,” “It’s the class size” and “We want a fair contract.”

“I see a lot of broken hearts. And I think it has to do with education and what’s going on,” said Shelly Foster, a parent who said her family moved here for the schools but that she finds the politics around them “alarming.”

Anne DeBardeleben, a parent and member of the Alameda Education Foundation’s board, offered the lone voice of support for the district Tuesday. She said that while she agreed with parents who offered support for teachers, the anger some expressed with the district should be directed elsewhere.

“It is not our local districts that are to blame. It is our state and federal government that refuses to respect education for our students,” DeBardeleben said. “We need to take all this frustration and all of this anger and take it to the right place and fight for it.”

As if to underscore her point, district officials followed up with a presentation on state and federal funds tied to specific district programs – and cuts to that funding.

Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said the district is set to lose $1.7 million in federal funding next year, most of it from a federal jobs bill that offered short-term cash. Shemwell said the district is also preparing to shell out $966,007 in transportation costs that the state will no longer fund and $38,406 for homeless programs when that federal funding dries up.

The district is spending nearly $8.5 million to help fund special education, or 42 percent of the $20.4 million cost of Alameda Unified’s special education program. Board Trustee Mike McMahon said the federal government had promised to pay 40 percent of special education costs, but its contribution makes up just 9 percent of the district’s funding for the program.

Early findings from a facilities report to be completed in early May show the district’s facilities need about $50 million in improvements, an amount district officials said will grow as the analysis is completed.

The most critical need, Shemwell said, is shoring up Historic Alameda High School and moving the district office elsewhere. The estimated cost of shoring the high school – a project that will include bracing the building, caging entrances and exits and erecting an eight foot high fence around the school – is $663,268, while rent for a new district office could be as high as $46,000 a month, though Shemwell said district officials hope to lease a building with a purchase option.

District officials had looked at existing space owned by the district and the city but found it inadequate, Shemwell said. Shemwell, who said the district offices won’t be habitable after retrofit work is done at Historic Alameda High, said he hopes to have new space leased by May or June.

Adult school classes will be moved to Woodstock Education Center and Wood Middle School, Shemwell said. He said the new district office will house around 80 employees, and the adult school will need 14 classrooms.

Board trustees said they want a rendering to offer the community and a meeting to discuss what the high school will look like after retrofit work is done.

“This is going to present a problem to our community, that we will not want this fence around this school indefinitely,” Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said. “I think that Alamedans are proud of the historic school that we have. And to think we are going to put an eight-foot tall fence around it indefinitely – I think there will be pushback.”

“It will be what it will be,” Shemwell responded. “It’s there for safety. And it will be there until there is another solution to repair this building.”

The exchanges about the balance between preserving the buildings’ beauty and maintaining public safety in the event of a major earthquake evolved into a discussion about the long-term plan for the building and all of Alameda Unified’s facilities.

“You’re either going to demolish the building or you’re going to retrofit the building, one of the two,” Shemwell said.


Submitted by barbara kahn on Wed, Apr 25, 2012

In true tone deaf administration style, Mr. Shemwell projects us back into the 1970's when we had the same argument--an administration that wanted to demolish alameda High and replace it with a more adequate campus and those who wanted to preserve it. Then as now, the cost of retrofitting was prohibitive, the building was saved, and the administrative offices that did not have to meet Field Act standards moved from 400 Grand street (now portables on the Wood school site) to fill up the space--and fill it they have--as our district has shrunk, the administrative space has grown. There is no state requirement that the district move--it is their choice, and now once again, the comfort and wishes of the administrative staff trumps the needs of the kids of Alameda. Among the outcomes of the last battle was an attempted recall of school board members, failing that, at the next election a change of command with a new majority, and a superintendent summarily sent packing.

Submitted by Page Barnes on Wed, Apr 25, 2012

Ms. Kahn, I can only conclude from your comment that you are unaware that an independent engineering study concluded that the portions of the building holding district staff offices have a high probability of collapsing during a major earthquake.

No matter how much anyone dislikes the Superintendent or administration, district staffers shouldn't have to pay for that animosity with their lives.

Submitted by barbara kahn on Thu, Apr 26, 2012

My problem with the question of relocating the district offices arises from several questions. I believe, that in spite of the positive things that this superintendent and her administration may have created, decisions are surrounded in secrecy and there is no sunshine in AUSD. Decisions are made behind closed doors that are not educational in content, but choices that the community, teachers and students could weigh in on, if they were included. Hopefully the new League of Women Voters study will have an impact.

There is nothing new about the building being unsafe. It has been unsafe since it became the administration building. Why now do we commission a study to legitimize a move? How much did the study cost? Are there alternatives to renting office space in pricey buildings and diverting funds from projects that could benefit our children? Most of our schools are shabby and both high schools are less than a demonstration that our community cares about kids and education.

As an aside, I was among those who favored demolition of AHS and replacing it with an adequate campus for our kids--maybe even one complete high school for everyone. We are a small enough district.

Submitted by Page Barnes on Thu, Apr 26, 2012

I don't profess to know why the safety issue came up now, but by looking at the letter to the community and (admittedly) reading between the lines, it looks like the study was prompted by a Field Act compliance audit by the Department if State Architecture.

I'm not sure that it makes any difference that the building has always been unsafe. Just because the safety of district employees has been disregarded in the past does not excuse jeopardizing the safety of employees now. The district knows that it has employees who are working in an unsafe building. Without getting into the potential legal liability that could be incurred by the District, don't we have a moral obligation to make sure that district employees are not putting their lives on the line when they go to work? I'm sure that the fact that the building has always been unsafe is cold comfort to the employees who work there now. As for the other schools, the report says that all the other district buildings are Field Act compliant, so even though they may be "shabby" they are not seismically unsafe, unlike the building currently housing the District offices.

Lastly, there was a detailed presentation on Tuesday night about the alternatives. I would encourage you to review that presentation if you do believe that alternatives have not been explored. I'm not sure how much more sunshine you could ask for on this matter. A letter was sent to community members about this issue, and it's been publicly discussed at board meetings and almost certainly will be discussed again. You and anyone else who thinks that district employees should stay in the unsafe building or that alternatives are not being appropriately explored have had and will continue to have every opportunity to express your opinion.