Gonzalez unloads on school board
Supt. demands to know where he stands Madera Unified trustees got some straight talk from their superintendent at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, and there was no ambiguity in the message: if trustees lack confidence in him, they need to be honest and say so.
Superintendent Ed Gonzalez’ public challenge came when the board was discussing whether or not the district should continue to set aside money in a building fund to help meet the cost of building eight new schools over the next 12 years.
When it appeared the board might vote negatively on the plan, Gonzalez unbosomed himself. “I need to say something,” he intoned, “because I have sat here long enough. I feel like I am in an arm wrestling match every time we have a board meeting, and it’s getting a little old. The board hired me to be the CEO of the district. They asked me for a plan. We worked on it for a year, now we have a different idea at the eleventh hour. They said they want no more portables. They want to lower class sizes. I put together a plan to do that. Now this plan isn’t right. We want to put money back in the classrooms.
“You know what the board’s telling me? The board needs to be honest with the community. The board is telling me this is a vote of no confidence. And if that is in fact the case, the board needs to say that right here on the dais, to the community, because I am not going to sit here continually and listen to this pushback and get nowhere.
“We’re getting nowhere. We’ve got things to do. We’ve got classrooms to build and it is simply a slap in the face to all the staff members … for someone to fly in at the 11th hour and say that you don’t know what you are doing. We know better. That is simply a vote of no confidence and if that’s the case just be straight up and tell the community; you have a vote of no confidence with the CEO (superintendent).”
Tuesday night’s tension centered on a resolution authorizing the annual transfer of $10 million into Fund 41, the district’s building fund. At the behest of trustee Brent Fernandez, the item was pulled from the consent agenda to be considered separately.
Fernandez asked the board not to allow the transfer “at this present time.” He cited the uncertainty of passage of the state school facilities bond in November and questioned the legality of the district putting general fund money into the building fund.
“I’m not opposed to doing it,” Fernandez said, “I would just like at this time to postpone it.”
Trustee Ed McIntyre then raised the question of procedure. “How is this happening?” he asked. “Did we discuss moving money into this account?”
Gonzalez pointed out that this is the third year the transfer has been made. “It has been the practice since I have been here (as superintendent),” he maintained.
From that point, the debate became philosophical when McIntyre voiced his opposition to taking operational money and setting it aside to augment a building fund. “We don’t have enough money to do what we need to do operationally,” McIntyre insisted. “I think we need to put our money in the classrooms.”
Trustee Ricardo Arredondo entered the fray by supporting the building fund transfer, and he was joined by trustee Ray Seibert.
When Gonzalez reminded the board that, if it didn’t put aside money to build new classrooms, more portable classrooms would be a result.
McIntyre’s responded, “We might as well face the fact that we are going to be living in a school environment with many, many, many portables. We’ll always have them.”
Arredondo reminded the board that Gonzalez and his staff spent weeks sharing the idea of creating a building fund with the community before the board finally approved it. He cited community support for the idea. “We are deviating from a plan that has been in place, has community support, has board support, and then one night say we are not going to do it any more.”
Board President Al Galvez suggested the board needed to understand the history of the creation of the building fund. Some of the board members, he said, have questions as to how we got there. “I don’t understand why a vote of no confidence is even being entertained,” Galvez said, “We just want to be fully informed before we make a decision.”
Fernandez denied that the discussion was a vote of no confidence. “This was simply pulled to discuss; that was it,” he said.
Records in The Madera Tribune show that Gonzalez first unveiled the building plan to trustees in January after they had requested a long-range building needs assessment in November 2015. At the board’s direction, Gonzalez followed this up with a series of public meetings aimed at sharing and gathering input from the community.
The board has passed three budgets that include transferring money from the general fund to the building fund. In addition, the present board has heard three presentations of the “12 year plan,” which in each case included transferring funds from the general fund to the building fund.
A motion Tuesday night by Arredondo and a second by Seibert to approve the contested transfer passed on 4-2 vote. The affirmative votes were cast by Arredondo, Galvez, Seibert, and trustee Maria Velarde-Garcia. Fernandez and McIntyre voted no. Clerk Robert Garibay was absent.