Golden Valley divided

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webmaster | 06/08/13
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Board trustee under fire

A Golden Valley Unified School District trustee’s actions, alleged to be in violation of several California educational and penal codes, have been taken to the Madera County Grand Jury for possible investigation.

Detractors of trustee Kathleen Crumpton — one of whom filed the complaint — say that her constant visits to school sites is a disruptive presence and that an alleged longtime grudge against GVUSD Superintendent Andrew Alvarado causes discord in the district.

Supporters say instead that Alvarado is an intimidating presence who controls the board, and claim the questioning of Crumpton’s practices — who they praise for her work with all levels of school staff — is playing dirty politics.

On the record

At a meeting of the GVUSD board held earlier this week, President Mike Kelly said on public record that Crumpton had made the district financially culpable for the incident earlier this year from which any current controversy has sprung.

“Your actions on April 17 have put this district at financial risk,” Kelly said to Crumpton before the board went into closed session. “At the very least we will be required to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees, and possibly additional thousands in compensation to a teacher you refer to as a friend.”

According to official school board documents, Crumpton visited Webster Elementary School on the day in question to “observe the Webster principal and others conduct an informal, scheduled classroom observation of a special education teacher.”

After she signed in and displayed her board member badge — required by GVUSD board policy — Crumpton went into the classroom where, according to the same board documents, Webster principal Felipe Piedra asked her to leave “since her presence would disrupt the planned observation.”

Crumpton refused the request to leave school grounds but went to another classroom. She later said she was invited by the same teacher under informal observation and has performed similar visits for two-and-a-half years without conflict.

Warren Parr of the Madera Ranchos mailed the Grand Jury complaint early last week and has been a vocal critic of Crumpton. In it, he cited her refusal as violations of California Penal Codes 626.7 and 627.4, as well as California Education Codes 32210-32212 and 44800-44824.

“Her agenda escapes me,” Parr said. “This isn’t an issue against her personally but I felt it necessary to make sure she gets her due process.”

What becomes murky is whether or not Crumpton actually violated the codes and accounts of the day’s events. Public supporters of Crumpton at Tuesday’s board meeting claimed she did not.

The penal codes cited in Parr’s Grand Jury filing are clear in the establishment of misdemeanor fines up to $500 or jail time when any citizen, trustee or otherwise, refuses to leave school grounds at the behest of a principal or chief administrative officer of the site. The order can be appealed to the superintendent of the school district, though the person asked to leave must do so at the time they are ordered to even if a parent of a student.

Crumpton has eight children, including at least one at Webster and other schools in the district.

The education codes contain similar language and penalties, but also provide exceptions for “an officer or employee of the school district maintaining the public school.”

Edward Moseley, a 2010 school board candidate, said that Crumpton — as an elected official — did not violate the education codes.

“I think this is petty and beneath our district,” Moseley said. “If you’re an elected official, are you not an officer? I’ve read the codes and she didn’t violate anything — she was performing her duties as a board member.”

After Crumpton refused Piedra’s request and outside of any legality questions therein, Piedra phoned Alvarado, who drove to the school and told Crumpton — now in the classroom of fifth-grade teacher M.J. Gilio — to leave.

Gilio said that Alvarado “whisked” Crumpton from her classroom, and described Alvarado as a threatening figure who had yelled at her in years past.

“I was shocked, stunned, and intimidated by his abusive treatment,” Gilio said of an alleged incident during her time teaching science at Liberty High School in years past. “I asked Mr. Alvarado to stop yelling at me. He only got louder and meaner.”

Alvarado said those claims were “completely without merit.”

“I understand in a country like ours, the First Amendment is protected and people are entitled to level accusations against public figures,” Alvarado said. “But those claims are completely, entirely, 100 percent untrue.”

Gilio vehemently defended Crumpton in the same statement.

“This woman has gone the extra mile,” Gilio said. “She is the only school board member I have ever known to shadow custodians, bus drivers, teachers, cooks, and so on.”

Alvarado said he asked Crumpton to leave Gilio’s classroom so the two could talk without disrupting the class.

Accounts vary about the nature and intensity of the following talk between the two.

Alvarado described the talk with Crumpton as a “civil discussion.”

“I told her, basically, that her practice of coming to schools unannounced had to stop,” Alvarado said. “We wouldn’t let any parent or anyone just walk in without notification.”

In a Facebook post on a page set up for parents and others to discuss the school district, Crumpton instead described the conversation as hostile, and said that Alvarado “rudely and aggressively approached” her, “yelled at me, got in my face and repeated time and again that I was not his boss, and ordered me to get off the school campus immediately.”

A witness at the school that day — an online university teacher who asked not to have her name printed because of her husband’s employment within GVUSD — confirmed Crumpton’s account of events.

“I really thought he was going to hit her,” the woman said of Alvarado’s conduct. “He had his finger in her face, he was screaming at her... I have never in my life seen someone act that unprofessionally.”

Alvarado said those claims were also untrue.

“I have been with this school district for 12 years,” Alvarado said. “Out of the 200 employees that I represent, if you actually talk to them their opinion of me is contrary to all these allegations... to say that I’m some sort of loose cannon just doesn’t make sense.”

After the talk, Crumpton again refused to leave school grounds, and Alvarado said she continued to tour the school.

The board weighs in

Later on, Crumpton filed an official complaint against Alvarado because of his alleged conduct.

The board of trustees was then convened to discuss the matter, with Crumpton and Alvarado excluded from participation.

A report filed by the board on April 26 investigated the event and found that Crumpton’s complaint, including the Facebook post, had no evidence to support them though it did say the two “spoke to one another directly, forcefully, and assertively.”

The four voting trustees voted unanimously 4-0 in the same document to dismiss the complaint.

The document also directed Crumpton “not to be at Webster School when the planned classroom observation of the teacher is rescheduled,” “to follow all laws and all district policies with respect to visiting school sites,” and “to immediately leave campus when directed to do so by a principal, the superintendent, or any other administrator in charge of a district campus.”

But supporters of Crumpton allege that Alvarado controls the board and the report was an extension of that.

The same witness to the events said that she was never approached by anyone about her account of events, and alleged that Piedra never asked her or Crumpton to leave Webster in the first place.

“They never talked to me,” the witness said. “How could they conduct an investigation without a direct witness?”

Kelly admitted that the investigation “wasn’t some great, in-depth thing” but pointed out that other witnesses did not confirm Crumpton’s account of events, which included that Alvarado was “physically threatening” in the conversation. “It basically was: we talked to a few teachers that did observe the incident and got statements from them and the principal of course,” Kelly said. “The intensity, the location, the physical threatening, none of that was born out by any other witnesses. You can’t judge how a person feels in a situation and her reporting of it was I’m sure based on how she felt, but it was not substantiated by other witnesses there that observed it.”

Kelly also pointed out that Crumpton’s Facebook post was inappropriate.

“Facebook is a double-edged sword,” Kelly said. “It’s a way of communicating that isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is wrong if you’re using it as a complaint forum to enlist other members of the community to get riled up and support your view.”

A self-study by Liberty High School to the accreditation agency Western Association of Schools and Colleges before the April incident agreed with that position, and said that “there have been a number of instances where individual board members have used personal social networking sites to discuss school business. This practice has resulted in inaccurate information relayed to the community, creating discord among parents, administration, and staff.”

The report also decried “unannounced visits and inappropriate interactions between some board members and professional staff” and said that “some board members have personal agendas that supersede the LHS vision, purpose, and [expected schoolwide learning results].”

Kelly, as president of the board, made note that trustees had limited authority, and that the superintendent and other administrative officers’ decisions on school grounds were final.

“Individual board members have no authority,” Kelly said. “None. Together we have the authority to give direction to the superintendent and that’s the extent of our power... It doesn’t matter who thinks they own the Navy, the superintendent is the captain of the ship. If he asked me to leave it’s not my place to say no at that time.”

Kelly also said that Crumpton’s regular visits to schools were “under best of circumstances a disruptive practice.”

“At the beginning, when a new board member comes in unfamiliar with the educational process or what goes on in the classroom, it’s appropriate to see what goes on and how teachers deal with kids,” said Kelly, a former teacher. “Two years later you’ve been in there enough that you don’t need to see the process all the time... it’s okay to do it once in a while but to do it regularly is disruptive.”

Ongoing problem

Any legal questions, potential criminal charges, and accusations are now up for review by the Grand Jury, should it determine there is necessary evidence to conduct an investigation.

The Grand Jury office did not answer phone calls by Friday evening to comment on the potential review.

Parr said that — besides the grand jury complaint, his attempts to seek criminal charges against Crumpton, and a district complaint he filed against her — he would also seek a recall election should she not resign.

“I believe when you’re elected whether you’re a board member, the president, or anyone else you aren’t given a crown,” Parr said. “I believe there’s a process for the private citizen and hopefully the community will see that process brought to light.”

Crumpton declined to comment on the situation to The Tribune, but gave a written statement.

It reads, “When I ran for the school board in 2010, I made a commitment to my community. I knocked on many doors and promised the families of the Madera Ranchos that I would visit school sites, give back my board stipend, not take the medical benefits, and be their public servant.

“I have kept my word. I have maintained communication with my constituents on a regular basis and in the last two and a half years, I have visited many teachers/students in their classes and worked with many employees of Golden Valley Unified. I have enjoyed meeting the parents, the students, the staff members, the teachers and getting to know them by name. They have taught me many things and I appreciate everything I have learned from them and being allowed to see through their eyes so I could make informed decisions as a board member.

“I love my job! My loyalty will always be to the students, parents, teachers, and staff members of Golden Valley Unified.”

Perhaps the only clear conclusion through all of the accusations and legal questions was summed up by Moseley, who said he spoke out as a concerned citizen of the Madera Ranchos and the dirty he-said, she-said laundry being aired by the district.

“Neither side is entirely 100 percent correct on this,” Moseley said. “I have the utmost respect for the tight ship that’s being run at Golden Valley Unified right now. The district is being run well. But this dirty laundry petty politics are being publicized when they shouldn’t be.

“It’s not good for our district, it’s not good for our community, and it never should have gone as far as it has.”

 

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