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Angry Parents Greet New PUSD Board Administration

Complaints grow over school closings and transfer logistics; activists prepare recall effort to oust Board Vice President Phelps

Published on Friday, January 31, 2020 | 5:40 am
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[Updated] The wounds from four planned school closings are apparently still fresh, as the first PUSD Board of Education meeting of 2020 under new President Patrick Cahalan got off to a shaky start Thursday.

District parents complained of problems with open and priority enrollments, leaving students of closed schools on waiting lists for new schools, Meanwhile, a recall effort directed at new Board Vice President Scott Phelps has taken root.

Parents of Roosevelt Elementary students also pleaded with board members to reconsider that school’s closing. Roosevelt, Franklin and Jefferson Elementary schools, and Wilson Middle School, are all slated to close this year in the face of budget issues caused by shrinking enrollments throughout the District.

A number of parents of children attending those schools also complained to the Board about being not given the chance to choose or transfer their children to new schools, even after being told there were given priority. Board members, in their reaction, appeared to be unaware of the situation.

PUSD spokesperson Hilda Ramirez Horvath said in a statement that, “Knowing how difficult this time is for families and to ease their transition, District staff worked closely with the schools and individual families during the process and were in contact with them via telephone, text, email, and in person.”

Copies of a No Confidence for Scott Phelps petition evidenced a recall effort directed at new Board Vice President Phelps that has taken root.

Horvath said that families at the four schools have three options to enroll—First, they may register at a newly designated school in their neighborhood.”

As Horvath explained in her statement, “Every current student is guaranteed placement at their newly designated boundary school. (Franklin to Altadena; Jefferson to Longfellow; Roosevelt to Madison, Wilson to McKinley or Blair). Students can register at their neighborhood school at any time before the start of the new school year in August.”

Students received priority placement at a school of choice through a special lottery December 9 – January 3 ahead of PUSD’s annual Open Enrollment, said Horvath.

Current students at Franklin, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Wilson had priority for placement at other schools through the special lottery. Parents/guardians had to complete an application online December 9 – January 3, 2020 and register at their new school in January, said the statement. This special lottery was open only to current Franklin, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Wilson students.

But a number of those parents, however, found themselves on waiting lists even after being given priority in choosing new schools.

Horvath added that parents may also apply for placement through the regular PUSD Open Enrollment period in 2020 “if the special lottery deadline was missed.”

“The decisions the Board of Education made to close schools,” said Horvath, “were rooted in creating conditions so that every child in our schools—regardless of who they are or where they live—has access not only to the full K-12 core program, but the innovative learning programs that are igniting our students’ love for learning. Those decisions are now being implemented.”

Board member Phelps said that during the budget process and the school closings, “I realized how painful this was for everyone and I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ to everyone, that we had to do this.”

Phelps said that he disagreed with some parents and activists who said that the District should have closed San Rafael and not Roosevelt.

Those closings prompted a preliminary recall effort of Phelps by activist parent Rene Gonzalez, who presented the board and Phelps with a “Vote of No Confidence” petition he claimed was signed by almost 500 parents and another 1,500 online.

“A vote of no confidence is a statement from the constituents of an elected official, that we have no confidence in that representative,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said that the signatures would help when the organization files an actual recall with the State.

Should the recall effort go forward, said Gonzales, the group would have four months to gather 4,500 signatures, which represent approximately 20% of the District’s voters. The group is also actively seeking a candidate to replace Phelps as part of the recall effort, Gonzales added.

“Someone who will implement equity for our people, and make decisions that will benefit all of the children,” said Gonzales.

Phelps said that he was not worried about the recall effort.

“I’ve taken votes that San Rafael didn’t like at times, that Blair didn’t like, that schools in my area didn’t like,” said Phelps. “I just disagree with [Gonzales] fundamentally, and it’s their right to try and recall me.”

2013 PUSD Districting Task Force, which in establishing the geographic boundaries for trustee areas—whose voters elect us—drew a boundary line between the Roosevelt campus and the area where most Roosevelt parents live.  Most Roosevelt parents live in Michelle Bailey’s trustee area.

“They think that I have to do whatever they want,” said Phelps, “but I also represent San Rafael.”

President Cahalan, when asked about the continuing Roosevelt protest, said that “any Board decision can be revisited, and placed back on an agenda.”

Cahalan also noted that the Board may consider taking another look at some type of transportation for the District, with regard to students from closed campuses.

In other developments, the Board tabled further discussion on District-wide solar panel construction, saying it would take up the matter at an upcoming Board retreat.

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