Teachers bring picket to school board
Teachers brought last week’s pre-school picket to the school board on Tuesday, with dozens of sign-waving teachers packed into the back of council chambers as parents spoke on their behalf.
Parents said they moved to Alameda for high-quality schools and that they have come to love their teachers, and they want district leaders to offer them more support in the classroom and at the bargaining table, where the union and district administrators are expected to meet Friday.
“Our teachers fight for our kids. We need you to fight for our teachers, because you make the decisions,” said Samantha Hermosillo, whose two small children accompanied her to the podium as she spoke to the board.
Teachers responded to Hermosillo’s comments and those of other parents who spoke for them with loud cheers, waving signs that said “Respect for teachers,” “It’s not just about the money,” “It’s the class size” and “We want a fair contract.”
“I see a lot of broken hearts. And I think it has to do with education and what’s going on,” said Shelly Foster, a parent who said her family moved here for the schools but that she finds the politics around them “alarming.”
Anne DeBardeleben, a parent and member of the Alameda Education Foundation’s board, offered the lone voice of support for the district Tuesday. She said that while she agreed with parents who offered support for teachers, the anger some expressed with the district should be directed elsewhere.
“It is not our local districts that are to blame. It is our state and federal government that refuses to respect education for our students,” DeBardeleben said. “We need to take all this frustration and all of this anger and take it to the right place and fight for it.”
As if to underscore her point, district officials followed up with a presentation on state and federal funds tied to specific district programs – and cuts to that funding.
Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said the district is set to lose $1.7 million in federal funding next year, most of it from a federal jobs bill that offered short-term cash. Shemwell said the district is also preparing to shell out $966,007 in transportation costs that the state will no longer fund and $38,406 for homeless programs when that federal funding dries up.
The district is spending nearly $8.5 million to help fund special education, or 42 percent of the $20.4 million cost of Alameda Unified’s special education program. Board Trustee Mike McMahon said the federal government had promised to pay 40 percent of special education costs, but its contribution makes up just 9 percent of the district’s funding for the program.
Early findings from a facilities report to be completed in early May show the district’s facilities need about $50 million in improvements, an amount district officials said will grow as the analysis is completed.
The most critical need, Shemwell said, is shoring up Historic Alameda High School and moving the district office elsewhere. The estimated cost of shoring the high school – a project that will include bracing the building, caging entrances and exits and erecting an eight foot high fence around the school – is $663,268, while rent for a new district office could be as high as $46,000 a month, though Shemwell said district officials hope to lease a building with a purchase option.
District officials had looked at existing space owned by the district and the city but found it inadequate, Shemwell said. Shemwell, who said the district offices won’t be habitable after retrofit work is done at Historic Alameda High, said he hopes to have new space leased by May or June.
Adult school classes will be moved to Woodstock Education Center and Wood Middle School, Shemwell said. He said the new district office will house around 80 employees, and the adult school will need 14 classrooms.
Board trustees said they want a rendering to offer the community and a meeting to discuss what the high school will look like after retrofit work is done.
“This is going to present a problem to our community, that we will not want this fence around this school indefinitely,” Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said. “I think that Alamedans are proud of the historic school that we have. And to think we are going to put an eight-foot tall fence around it indefinitely – I think there will be pushback.”
“It will be what it will be,” Shemwell responded. “It’s there for safety. And it will be there until there is another solution to repair this building.”
The exchanges about the balance between preserving the buildings’ beauty and maintaining public safety in the event of a major earthquake evolved into a discussion about the long-term plan for the building and all of Alameda Unified’s facilities.
“You’re either going to demolish the building or you’re going to retrofit the building, one of the two,” Shemwell said.