Money, Not Education, Now Focus Of FUSD Administrators, Parents & Teachers Say

An illustration of the sense of entitlement that many critics of government say has grown to typify the attitudes of public employees is playing out in the Fontana Unified School District. Last month, a divided school board gave superintendents Leslie Boozer and four assistant superintendents – Antonio Cediel, Jose Duenas, David Creswell and Randal Bassett – pay increases.
In the case of Boozer, she saw her pay and benefits boosted to more than a quarter of a million dollars per year – $268,705. More than one-fifth of a million dollars per year – $202,645 was conferred upon Cediel, Dueñas, Creswell and Bassett. Nevertheless, in reaction to that, the four assistant superintendents collectively protested the school board’s action for not having voted unanimously to up their pay, suggesting the 3-2 vote reflected a lack of appreciation of their contributions and an insinuation that they were getting more than they deserved.
In staging their tantrum, the assistant superintendents hinted that they might not accept the four-year contracts at the $202,645 per year remuneration rate.
The district’s provision of the four year contracts comes in the aftermath of what had been a seven year-long running economic downturn at the local, regional, state and national level, precipitated by the mortgage meltdown of 2007. During that period, the sputtering economy had resulted in declining sales across the board and the de-escalation in the value of real estate, triggering a decline in the collection of taxes and dwindling revenues to governmental agencies across the board, including school districts. In that atmosphere, the generosity government officials had exhibited in the late 1990s and early 2000s in terms of public employee salaries and benefits became apparent. There was much criticism of an ethos that had developed in which public employee union’s had evolved into the most prolific of campaign donors to the governing boards – the boards of supervisors, the mayors and councilmembers and the board members – who ultimately approved their labor contracts with the unions representing those employees. Projections and actuaries of the financial burden living up to those contracts would represent, eating into the funding intended to pay for the actual services those counties, cities or districts provided, led to cutbacks – in some cases modest and in other cases more substantial – in the service levels those counties, cities, agencies and districts offered.
Fontana was not immune to this. By state law, all California school districts must notify their teachers by March 15 of whether the teaching positions they hold will be extended the following school year. In this way, school districts project in the late winter how many teaching positions they will have in the coming school year.
In March 2013, then- Fontana Unified School District Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks served 42 teachers, most of them high school math, biology and earth/geoscience instructors, that they were getting pink slips. At the time, there appeared to be a consensus among the school board and district administrators that the district could no longer be profligate with the taxpayer money available to it and that it needed to husband its resources to ensure that the district’s mission – educating the students entrusted to it – would not be compromised by high salaries and benefits to teachers, administrators or non-certificated personnel that would reduce the district’s wherewithal in providing educational opportunities to the students. Among the goals outlined in offering proper educational opportunities was ensuring that classrooms would not be overcrowded. Accordingly, there was a consensus that the district would endeavor to hold the line on salary and benefit increases to district employees because future revenues into the district could not be guaranteed or predicted.
However, with the nascent economic recovery and the hiring of the former head of the Chicago public school system, Leslie Boozer, to replace Olsen-Binks as superintendent, the resolve to maintain fiscal discipline faded. Last month Boozer set a proposal before the school board that called for increases in her own salary and those of the district’s four assistant superintendents whom she refers to as the senior members of her “cabinet,” which, in her words, “reflect the recently approved management increases, equivalent to the increase approved for the Fontana Teachers Association, School Police Officers Association and United Steelworkers bargaining units, and other members of management.” All five of those increases were voted on separately. In each case, board members Barbara L Chavez, Lorena Corona and Mary B Sandoval supported the raises and board members Jesse Armendarez and Matt W. Slowik opposed them.
Shortly after that vote was cast, Cediel, Dueñas Creswell and Bassett, on September 8, wrote to Boozer. In that letter, they collectively stated, “We are writing to express our disappointment in the recent board vote on all 5 of our contracts. We believe that the gravity of the 3/2 vote was somehow lost on those who voted ‘no.’ While they stated that this was not personal, and we should feel supported in spite of the ‘no’ votes, the bigger picture was missed.”
The letter continues, “We work at the pleasure of the board. We must be a team. We all work hard to do incredible things, some of which are enjoyable, many of which are hard and controversial. A 5/0 vote shows our district and community that we are setting out as a team. The vote is symbolic, political, and personal. It demonstrates publicly the support or the lack of support that we have to do very difficult jobs. It has nothing to do with our egos and everything to do with our ability to be effective. In the area of education, a 3/2 vote is considered to be the strongest vote of no confidence short of a vote to terminate. At this level, many in our profession are hesitant to accept a position without unanimous board support. The fact that the board members who voted ‘no’ did not speak up or pull the items prior to the public hearing is also unsettling. We lay our character, reputations and professional lives on the line every day for the Fontana Unified School District. The 3 small points that were bought up could have been easily changed or pulled. Those 3 points do not remotely counter the weight of the overall no votes on us or our positions. We are deeply concerned with the ramifications this public vote has on your position as superintendent. Please know that we are very supportive of you both personally and professionally. This letter is written with respect for you, our positions and the Fontana Unified School District.”
The four assistant superintendents are not living in political reality, a group of parents and teachers in the district say. Slowik and Armendarez’s votes against their pay increases and that of Boozer reflect the widespread perception that Boozer and the management group she has surrounded herself with are more concerned about fattening their paychecks than ensuring continued financial viability for the district that will ensure there is enough money to carry out the district’s educational mission. In a written charge sheet received by the Sentinel, the coalition of parents bemoans “the superintendent’s salary increase” as well as “the huge increase in upper management positions (chiefs, assistant chiefs, directors, coordinators, etc.). Tons of money [is] being spent on new upper management positions. Compare six years ago to now. [There are] so many new positions that they had to move them to a new building.”
In addition, the parents/teachers group said of the Fontana district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan that too much had been spent on “Linked Learning. Over $1 million [has been] spent on it. Huge administrative costs for one program. Is the Local Control and Accountability Plan student focused? No. It is district level focused. The board of education says that it is what the teachers and parents wanted. It is not. It has all been manipulated.”
Furthermore, according to the parents/teachers coalition, “Site budgets have been cut up to 70 percent since [Boozer] was hired. Site monies go to site positions, basic supplies, etc. We are limited on paper, tissues, pencils, printer ink, crayons, etc. With the Local Control Funding Formula [a state-mandated program] sites should have more money but we have less. Why is that? Do an analysis of where the money is spent. The Local Control Funding Formula was meant to help with class size reduction. [Boozer] insists that class size reduction doesn’t work and refuses to look at reducing class sizes. School site positions were cut during the fiscal crisis. Now that we have money, those positions have not been reinstated. Yet the district has money for high priced chiefs. Sites need tutors, outreach consultants, etc.”
According to the coalition “Many people are afraid to speak up but we want what is best for our students. We feel that the district money is being used far away from the school sites. Something needs to be done.”
Some of the parents and teachers suggested that the school board should take the four assistant superintendents at their word, deem that the raises they were offered have been rejected, and request that Boozer terminate all four.
Because of the perception that they are outmuscled politically by their three female colleagues on the school board, Armendarez and Slowik have gone into virtual seclusion and are reluctant to make public statements over concern about retribution for opposing the direction in which Boozer, Cediel, Dueñas Creswell and Bassett are taking the district.

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