Turlock school board gets an earful

TURLOCK — Parents and teachers lined up Tuesday night to protest the school district's treatment of its educators.

Speakers pleaded with the Turlock Unified School District Board to halt a plan to remove eight teachers from Cunningham Elementary School. Some teachers said the board treats them poorly during ongoing budget negotiations.

Neither item was on Tuesday night's agenda; the board took no action.

Rob Aikman did, however.

The fifth-grade teacher in Cunningham's Gifted and Talented Education Program quit rather than relocate.

"If the district does not value me as an educator at Cunningham School, then I feel they do not value me at all," he said. "Change is hard, and change is often necessary, but change just for the sake of change is a superfluous blustering of power, it does nothing to truly help students."

Last week, the district announced it would implement a "turnaround" plan that includes relocating Cunningham Principal Tim Norton and several teachers. Al Silveira, principal of Sandra Tovar Medeiros Elementary School, will take over at Cunningham next school year.

Cunningham fared poorly on the state's recently released Academic Performance Index, ranking a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 in comparison with similar schools.

Nobody on Tuesday spoke against relocating Norton; they said the district was targeting teachers instead of a site administration that was really at fault.

"I know that this group of teachers are being punished rather than making a poor principal do his job," said Tonya White, a third-grade teacher at Cunningham. But she said that whatever campus she's assigned to, "Come Aug. 16 I will be back in the classroom, and I think the real gift here is to the next (Cunningham) administrator who will find the quality of teachers the district has thrown under the bus to mask the real problems."

Board president Frank Lima said the district wanted to make improvements before continued failure prompts the state to impose its will on the school.

"I know most of the people in this room right now don't like what's happening at Cunningham," he said. "But it's very clear to me we need to do things differently."

Other teachers addressed ongoing contract negotiations. The district and its unions have been at a stalemate over proposed pay cuts; the district wants educators to take cuts, and the teachers want furloughs that would reduce workdays and not affect retirement benefits.

Karen Grimbo, a third-grade teacher at Brown Elementary, said: "In negotiations, asking me to take a pay cut sends the message I am not worth what I once was."

Lima said the choices aren't easy and the economic situation is going to get worse. He said the board's commitments this year — no layoffs, no reduction in teaching days, no class-size increases — could be up for negotiation for the 2011-12 school year.

"I'm willing to make a prediction at this point," he said. "I predict one year from now we're going to be sitting here and we're going to be fondly remembering the meeting we just had. This is the easy part. ... We haven't seen anything. We haven't scratched the surface."