Angry parents protest at Gonzales Unified School District Board meeting

Hundreds gather at Gonzales School Board Meeting to protest and call for superintendents removal

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - UPDATED 3/12/2018 10:00 p.m.

Outrage again Monday in Gonzales from parents and teachers as the school board voted to uphold a decision that would release three teachers.

Those teachers say the board has given no legitimate reason for not re-hiring them.

Monday was the second time in two weeks the fate of three teachers came up. Those teachers say they've each had great evaluations throughout their time at the district and that the decision was made because they spoke up against changes they felt were needed in the district.

"I'm angry and I'm frustrated and I'm worried about who is going to be the teacher for those now, 15 individuals in my class," said teacher Monserrat Garcia.

Reaction from a Gonzales Unified School District teacher who won't be returning next school year. 

Garcia's not alone, hundreds of parents, teachers and other community members came out to speak up for the three teachers the board decided not to rehire.

The teachers say they've had good evaluations but once they spoke up about issues affecting their classrooms, attitudes changed.

"They told me I was not a correct fit, so there's a trend at the beginning. I seemed to be a very perfect fit for this district and now it seems like I'm not," Garcia said, "I'm not a good fit because I started to advocate for my students."

The teachers aren't the only issue that has the Gonzales community fired up. Many feel superintendent Liz Modena has mismanaged the budget and has been influencing the school board.

Hundreds of parents signed a vote of no confidence letter for Modena that was submitted to the board Monday.

"These letters are just the first, a stepping stone to a process we're going to follow as a community to show we've lost all trust," said Areli Mancera Calderon a parent.

"We're fed up with it, it's been going for quite some time now and we need results, we need answers and we need to prove to the community that we're stronger," said Viry Valdez, another parent.

But with an uncertain future for several classrooms, teachers and parents are concerned about their children's education.

"I'm worried, who is going to take care of my students now?" Garcia said.

The school board told Monday's crowd there is confidential information that went into their decisions.

They say they've listened to the community and that the district students are their top priority.


UPDATED 2/27/2018 10:00 p.m.

Teachers speaking out again Tuesday after hundreds came out to a Gonzales Unified School District meeting to voice concerns.

Parents, students and district staff talked about mismanagement of the budget and questionable decisions regarding qualified teachers.

Three teachers were told this school year would be their last with the district. Each of those teachers say they haven't been given a good reason why and the community is coming to their support.

"I am very angry disgusted and frustrated that La Gloria Elementary wants to replace Ms. Robinson a fully credentialed teacher," said one parent at the Monday night meeting.

"It was a pretty big surprise to me to hear that I wouldn't be coming back this next year," said Dr. Matthew Gutierrez, an English teacher at Fairview Middle School.

The only explanation the teachers say the board gave was that they "weren't a good fit".

"It's an interesting thing to say to somebody who has good [evaluations] a strong history of top of the line performance in their students," Gutierrez said, "If I'm not a good fit here, what does that say? It's an interesting statement to be made."

We did get a response to our questions from Superintendent Liz Modena who issued a statement that says in part:

"While we cannot share details about personnel matters, evaluation procedures are in place to review all aspects of teacher performance. In this time of teacher shortages, we do not make the decision to recommend non-rehire lightly​."

Below is a full response from Superintendent Liz Modena on many of the issues the Gonzales community has brought up. Modena's Responses are in red.

The three teachers not being rehired, they say they were basically told they were not a good fit, that there's no legitimate reason for their not being rehired. That they spoke up against things in the district they were concerned about and are being punished. Are you able to address that or at least tell us what reasons a teacher may not be chosen for re-hire?
While we cannot share details about personnel matters, evaluation procedures are in place to review all aspects of teacher performance.  In this time of teacher shortages, we do not make the decision to recommend non-rehire lightly
. There is a teacher shortage in every district in this County (and in the State). To be clear, the old term "highly qualified" has been changed by the federal government to "highly effective" and that means the teacher has the appropriate credential and nothing to do with performance in the classroom.  
Also, what is being done to address the teacher shortage in your district?
How big of an issue is it to you and the board?
​ ​
Gonzales has experienced less of a problem than other districts as our pay is competitive as you can see in the report attached from School Services of California who conducted an independent audit of our budget this current school year. To address this issue and remain competitive Gonzales, like other surrounding districts, offers a signing bonus to attract teachers.  
Finally, many parents and teachers at the meeting told me (and of course the board) that the budget was not managed correctly. That money was lost and there is a huge need for building upgrades and also new curriculum or textbooks. How well do you believe the budget has been managed to benefit students and staff?
​ ​
​That is not accurate information.  It is what teachers are feeding them because for the first time, in many years the Board did not authorize to accept the Union's request for a 6% raise over two years.  There is one time money available for one time expenses (facility repairs, bonuses) but there are not sufficient funds for ongoing expenses. This is not unusual, you will find the same in many district budges in Monterey County.  This messaging to parents and students is grounded in Union Political Tactics that are being utilized in many districts around the state of California.  
As we have not carried over $2 million every year, I am not clear about this question.  There is a state defined budgeting process for public K-12 school districts in California.  In Gonzales USD, funding is allocated to each school site to meet the needs of that site. When funds are not fully utilized as planned, that can create a fund balance at year end closing.  This under-spending can occur for a variety of reasons. Year end closing is reported publicly at the Regularly Scheduled Board Meeting no later than September for the previous school year.  Each year the budget is submitted to the Monterey County Office of Education for review and acceptance. (this review is attached below)
​  Our budget and other information can be found on our website.  To make them easily accessible, I have attached some or given you the link to others.​ 
Here is some of the information that is on our website link​
I am also giving you the direct link to the facilities information
Here is the information on budget. This is the link to the Business page on the website
Here is the link to the actual budget - first interim report
On the bottom of the home page at the end of the Superintendent's Message (in the middle of the home page) there is a link which gives you many documents that are available to the public.  
Here is the link to that folder with all of the budget information from December 2017 Budget Information



There is a systematic policy and procedure in place for textbook adoption that we follow.  Not only do we have a set timeline for each textbook cycle, but teachers are also involved by piloting selected programs.  We display the materials for public review, hold a Public Hearing at two consecutive Board meetings and allow for comments. 
Currently, we are in the process of adopting textbooks that are on cycle and we are awaiting the release of new textbooks based on state adoption, which is an ongoing process. Social Studies teachers are currently piloting texts from various publishers and we are poised to purchase new books for the 2018-19 school year. Science teachers are waiting for the state to release new texts aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, scheduled for adoption in 2018-19.
Classroom furniture:  
In 2016-17 we spent approximately $325,000 for new 21st Century classroom furniture to accommodate collaborative learning.  This allowed us to replace furniture in more than 20 classrooms district-wide and upgrade our high school science laboratories, library and to create a College and Career Center.  A plan is in place through our District LCAP to continue replacing classroom furniture in a continuous cycle.
Materials and Supplies:  
There is a district procedure in place to purchase materials and supplies. Purchase requests must align with district and site goals, as well as state and federal regulations.  Items are ordered when that process is followed and the requirements are met. 
Additionally, the District has committed to and has purchased 1:1 technology devices for students to use at school (not to take home). There is a Chromebook cart with complete sets in each classroom in grades 1-12, including alternative education programs and adult education. Students in Kindergarten have access to iPads in their classrooms. Additionally, complete labs with 33 desktops each are stationed at our middle school and high school
Attached is the powerpoint we shared at the Board Meeting in February 2017 about some of the facilities improvements that were made. 
Superintendent Modena also included the 2017 -2018 First Interim Board Packet, that can be found here.
Also from the Superintendent:
All other Budget information including the independent audit conducted by School Services is in this google drive folder - just click here
UPDATED 2/26/2018 11:00 p.m.

Hundreds showed up to a Gonzales Unified School District board meeting. Many demanding the removal of the superintendent and protesting the board's decision to not re-hire three teachers.

So many in the community came out to Monday night's meeting that it had to be moved to the Gonzales High School cafeteria to fit everyone.

Many of the people held signs calling for the termination of the superintendent and supporting three teachers the board decided not to rehire.

Parents say the teachers are being let go despite open positions for new teachers at the district.

Many in the community and even district employees tell KION the teachers are qualified but aren't being rehired because the board says they're "not a good fit".

"Two highly qualified [teachers], myself and Ms. Garcia were recommended for non-rehire without any legitimate reasons provided," said third grade teacher Vanessa Robinson.

"A lot of what's been going on is that these teachers that they're not being rehired, it's because at some point or another in their two years that they've been here, they've outspoken against something that the district has done," said substitute teacher Edwin Roque.

Dozens of parents, teachers and students spoke in support of those teachers. Many also bringing up what they said was mismanagement of the budget by the superintendent.

KION did ask Superintendent Liz Modena for comment after the meeting but she declined.


PREVIOUS STORY: Hundreds of parents are protesting at the Gonzales Unified School District Board meeting Monday night.

Parents told KION they are concerned about money not being used wisely and several teachers being let go despite there being open positions for new teachers. Parents showed up to the meeting hold signs and chanting to “put students first.”

Parents are also demanding the removal of superintendent Elizabeth Modena and protesting the board's decision not to re-hire three teachers.

The meeting is being held at the Gonzales High School cafeteria.

KION has a reporter there and this story will be updated.

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