This week's Modesto City Schools meeting revealed simmering tensions between administrators and employee union leaders, as well as among elected trustees.
Tempers peaked after the meeting when Trustee Ruben Villalobos walked away from a conversation he called a violation of the state open meeting law when his colleague, Trustee Gary Lopez, tried to rebuff other officials in support of district staff.
Lopez made a point to issue his comments after microphones were turned off and the official meeting had ended Tuesday night.
For some, the disputes reflect the stress that comes with serving in public office during times of budget slashing and the criticism from employees and the public that accompanies the cuts.
The main issue Tuesday night centered on Superintendent Arturo Flores' proposal to reorganize the district office to consolidate jobs and cut administrative costs. The district must ax $25 million of its $250 million budget, and employee union leaders have stated they will not accept more salary cuts or unpaid furlough days until they see some cutting from the top.
Representatives from the district's teachers and classified employees unions argued that the proposal did not go far enough, and that it would not reduce expenses by the $2.3 million administrators advertised.
That criticism persuaded six trustees to postpone their vote. Lopez wanted to move forward with it.
Classified employees union President Aaron Castro handed out an eight-page packet calling into question the reorganization. Castro asked why the district survived on two supervisors for custodial, maintenance and construction operations 30 years ago, yet even after consolidating jobs in Flores' proposal, there would be four supervisors for those services.
Castro added that during the 1980-81 school year, there were 128 custodians; today, there are 139.
He estimated the plan's savings would be $1.5 million.
Trustees asked staff to look into Castro's and others' concerns. At that point, some administrators became visibly irritated.
Chris Flesuras, the deputy superintendent of human resources, said it would take him a lot of time to go through the unions' issues, and that he wouldn't have a reply ready by the next board meeting Feb. 8. Julie Chapin, director of fiscal services, added that she didn't have enough time to review staffing levels from 30 years ago.
"It's not in the staff's interest to provide you numbers that are incorrect," Flores told trustees. "If you table this, it only puts us behind. We can go through their items line by line, but it will take a major amount of time to further clarify or dispel" the issues.
Flores urged trustees to approve the plan, and said officials would run out of time before the March 15 deadline to hand out notices of possible layoffs to some employees.
Lopez argued that no matter what Flores proposed for reductions at the district office, employee unions wouldn't be satisfied.
"We're trying to make the first step," Lopez said. "I guess no good deed goes unpunished."
Improved negotiations cited
Trustee Steve Grenbeaux said he supports Flores' efforts, but because both employee groups brought up issues, administrators should review the concerns. He said it would improve relations when the district negotiates salary cuts and furloughs with the unions.
Trustees adjourned the meeting shortly after 10:30 p.m. As they packed up, Lopez asked to speak to all of them before they left. Lopez asked the superintendent's secretary if the audio recording of the meeting was off. She said yes, and then Lopez quietly complained to trustees about their questioning of staff. He said Chapin has an "impeccable reputation."
Before Lopez finished, Villalobos said he was walking away because Lopez was violating the Brown Act. Lopez said he was not in violation of the public meetings act, and that he was just expressing an opinion.
The Brown Act prohibits a majority of any governing board from meeting or discussing district issues outside of public meetings.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.