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Mon, Feb. 17

Citizens gather at park to support school board recall

Many parents, teachers and concerned citizens gathered together Saturday at Mountain Valley Park and signed petitions for the recall of four Humboldt Unified School District board members.

This petition process began the day after the board voted to cut many of the district's teachers and classified positions, said petition committee treasurer Dolores Patrick.

She explained that she and two other committee members began making phone calls, passing out flyers and rallying together friends and neighbors toward the recall effort.

Patrick said that, on a personal level, "I could never do without the teachers."

She said that she fears for the future of the special needs programs within the district.

For example, she said, her grandchildren attend an alternative learning class whereby one teacher consistently walks around the classroom aiding the students while another teacher stands in front of the classroom giving the day's lessons.

Not to mention the fact that those teachers think nothing of driving to her home and dropping off class work for her grandchild who often needs one-on-one care because of an illness.

While the committee still lacks an official name, it will explore the legality of raising money, by way of fundraising, to offset the district's deficit, Patrick explained.

In addition, the committee is asking for eight volunteers with a financial background to head the future financial committee in an effort to oversee the spending of the money the group raises and earmarks for the teachers ' fund.

As for the timing and eventual cost of a recall election, Humboldt Education Association President David Newman, "We need leadership we can trust."

Newman acknowledged that the board "had good intentions…but they (the board) backed themselves into a corner."

For one thing, he explained, the district should have understood the task of transferring large amounts of money from the district's maintenance and operation budget into the capital budget – "or as we are now being told whether or not they didn't transfer…the point is it's their job to know how to do that," he said.

Newman also mentioned that, indeed, this "has been a year of rumors."

As a line of people continued visiting the petition tables that included stacks of voter registration forms, Newman spoke of those reports:

"Rumor – 50 teachers and 50 classified (personnel) will be cut," - a prediction that came true, Newman said.

"Rumor – we're in a $2 million deficit." Also true, he said.

"Rumor – some parents are planning to pull their children out (of the district) and place them in charter schools." Newman said that prediction also might come true.

"I'm hoping that before it actually comes to an election and the expense, that the board will wake up and realize they need to take responsibility," he said.

When questioned about how much the HUSD superintendent actually took on at the beginning of her term, Newman said that, yes, Cynthia Verdugo Wood did inherit some problems already in existence - problems that were present even when the former superintendent took the helm.

However, Newman said, "she continues making excuses… and that's the frustration."

Newman offered to the audience that if the teachers ran their classrooms like the superintendent runs the district, "they (teachers) would be fired."

Newman said that he's already shaking things up at the legislative level regarding the placement of money back into the maintenance and operation budget – the line item that, among other things, pays the teachers.

He explained that initially when the board agreed on the teacher salary increases, "that was a good idea," because teachers were leaving or planning to leave for more money.

On the flip side, the student enrollment numbers never increased and the superintendent did not explain those numbers or the student enrollment tracking status to the board, he said.

"I feel the petition is a good idea," said Parent-Teacher-Student Organization President Denise Finn.

She said she plans to collect petition signatures in her neighborhood, as her children attend school within the district, and strongly disagrees with the cutting of the teachers.

"Not only does this damage our children, it damages our neighborhoods and town. I don't see how they (the district) can expect our teachers to stick around and wait to see what happens next," she said.

Finn added that, despite her involvement with the school, she was not aware of any problems within the district until the news hit the press.

The petitioning committee must collect 1,731 valid signatures, for each board member, from registered voters within the HUSD to force a recall election.

Those signatures must be gathered within a 120-day time frame.

Contact Briana Lonas at blonas@prescottaz.com

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