What Should the District Do in Light of Resignations?
If They Won't Act, What Should Residents Do?
In recent weeks the Emery Unified School District has been rocked by the resignations of the two key District staff managing the embattled Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life (ECCL) project. First came the announcement that Superintendent Debbra Lindo would be retiring at the end of this school year. Next came the announcement that ECCL Project Manager and District Architect for the last 11 1/2 years, Roy Miller, was retiring within weeks. These retirements will leave the District with no senior staff with significant knowledge of or involvement in the District's ECCL plans. How can the District continue this project with no one on staff steering the ship?
One might expect that this would be a moment for the School Board of Trustees to pause and reflect on this situation. They might stop to wonder:
- Why is every staff member involved with this project running for the exits?
- Have staff realized the ECCL is destined for failure and want to disassociate themselves from it before they have to wear the blame?
- Have staff (finally) looked at the financials and realized that there is neither enough money to build the Board's K-12 vision, nor to operate this Taj Majal complex within the realities of our available bond funds and general fund dollars?
These are not questions raised by the School Board at their recent meeting in which Roy Miller announced his resignation, nor at the recent Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee meeting. Instead, the School Board has offered the people of Emeryville the same rose-colored glasses that colors their perception of this entire fiasco. The District proposes to hire even more consultants, spending even more money we do not have. They suggest hiring an interim project manager, a construction management firm, and a director of full-service Community Schools. They will, of course, also hire a new Superintendent. So we will hire three new people and a firm to carry on the work previously done by two people. This is yet another example of the District's idea of "economies of scale", "efficiency", and "cost savings" that the ECCL was always promised to deliver.
We have heard parents are increasingly looking to move their children to other schools before this K-12 ECCL is completed. Teachers have become more vocal at recent School Board meetings that their concerns are not being addressed. Indeed, it now seems that even key District Staff are pushing away the rose-colored glasses offered by our School Board, leaving just these five School Board Trustees in town who see no problems on the horizon for the ECCL. Unfortunately it is largely these five individuals who can still ruin our City's schools and its finances in a dogged pursuit of their misguided vision.
There are only two plausible ways forward that would enable our City to avert this problem. First, three members of the City Council could refuse to give the District the $21 million dollars they need to fully pay for the proposed ECCL. Without these funds, even the School Board would finally be forced to rethink their plans. Unfortunately, so far the City Council also seems unshaken by recent developments. Readers could write the Council Members and plead with them not to give this Board $21 million to squander (don't get your hopes up).
Second, the people of Emeryville could do what they have successfully done before; instigate a recall of the entire School Board. This is actually more pressing now than ever before. Regardless of teachers being empowered by the recent resignation announcement of the Superintendent and a would be chastened School Board, if left to their own devices, this Board will hire a replacement Superintendent who has bought into this ECCL debacle and that, like them, will ignore the concerns of parents and teachers. Only a new Board could shift the direction of this project and hire a new Superintendent that would focus on the needs of the District's students and the teachers that teach them every day.
There is one other alternative: more resignations. If at least three School Board members would join the Superintendent and ECCL Project Manager as they head for the exits, and if they would commit to appointing new Trustees with different ideas about our District's future, then our City could still avert disaster. But for this to happen the School Board would have to take off their rose-colored glasses for a moment and recognize the stark reality of where we are in this ECCL process. They've shown no indication that they are willing to do that and so, practically speaking, this leaves the people of Emeryville with no real alternative: it's time to gather signatures for a recall election.