The West Sonoma County Union High School District held their regular board meeting on April 14. Amidst threats of recalls, lawsuits, petitions and calls for a re-vote on consolidation and to defer the re-branding process, it was no wonder that the meeting lasted over four hours. Even routine items were used by public commenters as another reason to resign, re-vote, or slow down the process. The Forestville community fighting to keep open El Molino High School, now were joined by many in the Sebastopol community fighting to keep the 113-year history, name and traditions for Analy High School.
The first hour was taken up by two dozen public commenters speaking on these issues. Many wanted to slow down the re-branding process, while others wanted a re-vote on the consolidation decision. Some wanted both. Many claimed the State and Federal COVID-19 funds could be used to keep the El Molino school open for at least another year. Board President Kellie Noe stopped the comment period several times to allow Superintendent Toni Beal to respond to what she thought were inaccurate and misleading statements made by these commenters. Comments included accusing the board of not listening to the community, not bending to the “will of the people” and having made a hasty decision. To say the comments were heated, is an understatement.
Beal, in her “Superintendent’s Report,” covered the “Unity Committee” process, talked about a “Bell Committee” for the consolidated high school’s schedule, and committees for a “New School Model,” “Curriculum” and the upcoming LCAP process. Beal said that re-branding recommendations for the new high school’s name, mascot and colors should be ready for the board’s consideration by their May 26 meeting, The LCAP Committee plan will be presented at the June meeting. The board then passed a resolution declaring the month of May 2021 as “Employee Appreciation Month.” They also approved an updated MOU with the Teachers Association that had minor changes based on new guidelines regarding COVID-19 for the 2020-21 school year.
The next round of controversy erupted when the board started to discuss possible protocols related to external communications relating to the consolidation. The open letter to the community of April 6, which was printed in this paper, was not well received by many. Signed by the board, a couple of trustees objected. Their belief was that any communications coming from “the board” should be put on the agenda for discussion before release. If it came just from the Board President or the Superintendent and was factual, not an opinion, that was okay.
There also was a factual error attributed to a typo in that letter.
The board authorized a corrected letter to be sent out, directed the Superintendent to provide weekly updates to the community on the consolidation and re-branding process, and will bring back the Board’s Governance Handbook to a future meeting to review and revise, as necessary. Public commenters jumped on this issue as another reason to revote and reconsider re-branding. They claimed the April 6 letter was full of lies, was wholly inappropriate and misleading and an example of lack of transparency between the board and the community.
A short period of calm then followed as five budget related reports were approved by the board. These were the regular monthly update
for 2020-21, the district’s audit report, a corrective action to the 2019-2020 audit report, the audit report for the 2019-2020 parcel tax measure, and the audit report for the 2019-2020 measure A and measure I bond funds. The corrective action was required because the required School Safety Plans were not updated and was a minor discrepancy finding from the 2019-2020 audit. The audit reports, although not required by law, for the parcel tax and bond measures were to ensure use of those funds were appropriate and met the wording of the tax and bond measures put to the voters.
Mia Del Prete, the HR director, added two additions to the monthly personnel report. One was that Chief Business Official, Jeff Ogston had resigned effective April 14 to take another position. The board approved her report but that generated another round of public comments to revote and slow down. Not so veiled attacks on Ogston’s departure as being mysterious, suspicious and unprofessional. That the consolidation decision was driven by his budget narrative and perhaps those figures were now suspect and should be revisited before moving forward on consolidation.
Del Prete then announced the selection of Shauna Ferdinandson, the current principal of Analy High School, as the new principal for the consolidated schools. She’ll have a one-year contract that runs through June 30, 2022. And, yes this led to more negative comments from those opposed to consolidation. Board members pushed back on those comments directed at both Ogston and Ferdinandson. The siege continues. One speaker said, “we will fight.” Another said there were recalls underway for Noe, Fadave and Fernandes; and that they had retained a lawyer raising over 70 thousand dollars to pursue lawsuits if the board fails to reconsider their decisions.