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March 22, 2011 > Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

Story and Photos by Miriam G. Mazliach

The following are highlights from the Fremont Unified School District board meeting held on March 9, 2011.

Community Leadership:
Mary Liu-Lee was introduced as the new principal at Leitch (K-2) Elementary School, effective March 21, 2011. She is a long-time educator and has an extensive background in elementary education.

Superintendent James Morris, recognizing winning student teams from MathCounts and Science Bowl stated, "It is an amazing school district, with students who constantly receive achievements at higher and higher levels."

Regular Agenda Items:
Oral Communications:
Wendy Robertson, teacher at Forest Park Elementary School, spoke out against the large class sizes at the kindergarten level. "Class sizes of 28 are too large for kindergarten. Four and five year-olds need more support and attention. It takes longer to do things and there is less time for teaching and learning. More time is spent dealing with classroom management and conflict."

Second Interim Financial Report:
Superintendent Morris explained that the District had just been informed that due to the most recent litigation regarding California's Assembly Bill 3632, our district would now be liable to pay $1.9 million per year to cover Special Education services to students. Previously these expenses had been reimbursed by the State to the school districts that provide these specialized services to their students.

State Budget and Planning:
Assistant Superintendent of Business, Bill Stephens, commended the hard work of the department and staff in planning various budget scenarios, even though the State is giving the school district poor planning data. As required, the Second Interim Report is due in to the Alameda County Office of Education by March 15. The goal is to receive a "positive" certification of the district's fiscal stability, for the next two years. Additionally, the district must retain a two percent reserve of funds, as specified.

Certificated Employee Reductions:
The Board room was packed and many in attendance came with banners and spoke out to voice their objection as it appeared that counselor and librarian positions were on the chopping block.

To meet deadlines for layoff of certificated personnel, the Board must direct the Superintendent to issue notices or ("pink slips") to the designated personnel on or before the March 15 deadline.

Mission San Jose High School English teacher, John Boegman stated, "You should discuss having more counselors [not fewer] as there will be even more students flooding into Honors classes because of [changes] new qualifications for entering Honors classes. You're reducing counselors and now students will be more stressed. At MSJHS, the ratio is 732 students to 1 counselor. You can't continue this trend and expect good things to happen," Boegman added.

Library Media Teacher, Allyson McAuley who spends much of her time teaching students the extra skills not offered during classroom time, such as Power Point presentations and advanced research skills said, "21st century skills are needed in a 21st century world."

Board President Bryan Gebhardt responded, "Even though I'm afraid of the budget, I'm even more afraid of what these staff cuts would do to our students."

After a motion, the entire Board voted against issuing layoff notices and a huge cheer erupted from the audience, followed by a round of applause.

Adoption of Novels in Secondary Schools:
A contingent from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came to hear the Board's decision on whether or not the district would adopt six supplemental reading books for the secondary school level. Each book had already been approved by a district level committee.

These books are: Angels in America Part One by Tony Kushner; Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham; Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko; Mandela's Way Fifteen Lessons of Life, Love & Courage by Richard Stengel; An Unfinished Life - John F. Kennedy by Robert Dallek; Long Walk to Freedom; The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela.

However, controversy ensued over one book in particular, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Angels in America Part One, which deals with issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic during the 1980's and the interaction of friends and family.

While trustees Lily Mei and Larry Sweeney felt the content of the book was not appropriate for high school students, fellow Board member Lara York voiced a differing opinion. "To me it is about our mission as a college level class to challenge ourselves and our thought process. I don't see a controversy if [discussion of the book is] led in a rich dialogue by highly qualified teachers in the school environment," said York.

The Reverend Bruce Green of Centerville Presbyterian Church explained how he downloaded a portion of the text to see what it was about. He was disturbed by the content which he described as "profane and obscene."

Trustees Wu and Gebhardt also had concerns over the participation and composition of the committee used for the selection process. Therefore in the first motion made, to approve the other five less controversial books, Wu and Gebhardt voted nay, Mei, York and Sweeney voted aye as did student member Gupta. The motion passed.

In a second motion, that of approving Angels in America Part One for the 12th grade AP Supplemental Reading list, the motion failed to pass when only Trustee York voted in its favor.

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