DES board split on interdistrict transfers

Richard DuPertuis
DES board members Matt Latanzio, Will Newman, Ellen McArron and Christine Saverimuttu at Thursday’s meeting. Photo by Richard DuPertuis

The Dunsmuir Elementary School District Board of Trustees took some heat after their split votes denied three interdistrict transfers for parents who wanted to send their children to another school.

After unanimously approving two transfers, four DES trustees voted 2-2 on three others, which meant “The transfers cannot go forward,” as board president Matt Lattanzio announced.

The votes decided appeals to denials of interdistrict transfers made by the DES superintendent/principal.

The DES board was short one trustee while considering the transfers. Afterwards, they accepted the resignation of trustee Jenny Whitty and filled her seat with Lori Padilla.

At least one trustee and some members of the audience began the night under the impression that appeals would be automatically approved for parents who showed up at a board meeting. When an applicant asked during discussion if that were true, trustee Ellen McArron replied, “Yes. We do this to know why you want to leave our school.”

Trustee Will Newman countered that the board wants to “review and determine” appeals on a case by case basis.

Before voting to approve all five transfers, Lattanzio said he wasn’t prepared to vote on the appeals. “I’m in a very uncomfortable position to make a decision under the gun right now,” he said. “Telling a parent where they can or cannot send their child to school, that’s a lot of power.”

McArron also voted to approve all five transfers, while Newman and trustee Christina Saverimuttu voted to deny three transfers to Castle Rock Elementary School.

Stacie Moore, Castle Rock Elementary’s superintendent/principal said from the audience that the trustees misled parents. “Look, even one of your own said an approval was automatic,” Moore said after the votes. “Look what this decision has done. You’re taking away their rights. They don’t respect you.”

New DES superintendent/principal Helen Herd said, “We hope you’d give us a chance. I welcome any of you to come to our school and see what we’re about.”

Herd said those denied their interdistrict transfers have the right to appeal to the Siskiyou County Board of Education. “The buck stops there,” she said.

After the meeting she said, “We want a shot at educating our children. I believe in the local school system and supporting the school where you live.”

Policy changed last year

Schools are paid by the state per pupil, based on enrollment and attendance.

Late last school year, Dunsmuir Elementary trustees directed then-superintendent/principal Barbara Ulbrich to deny all transfers. Prior to that action, it was common practice to grant all interdistrict transfers. With that action came an invitation for parents to appeal a denial to the board.

Ulbrich retired at the end of the last school year. Herd took over as superintendent/principal this year.

“Of course we want them to be here,” Herd said during the meeting. “Not just for the dollars, but for receiving a foundation for their education.”

One of the approvals for transfer was for a boy to go to Yreka, where his mother works and father lives. The other was for a girl to go back to Castle Rock Elementary after attending DES last year. “She’s more comfortable going where she lives,” said her mother from the audience.

Two of the denials were in response to parents reporting problems with bullying. The third parent shared criticisms she found on the internet.

“All schools have problems with bullying,” said Herd.

Newman said a new school policy, called Positive Behavioral Implementation and Supports, is going to help with the bullying problem. “Mrs. Herd seems to have no qualms to call people on behavior,” he said.

Saverimuttu urged parents to come to the school and make their own decisions, rather than rely on online reports.

Other actions

The trustees second order of business was to accept the resignation of Jenny Whitty and fill the empty seat with Lori Padilla.

The five trustees of the Dunsmuir Elementary School District proceeded to unanimously approve a Common Core implementation plan to spend a $24,000 grant on computers, Common Core training, and Common Core materials.

The trustees approved a budget transfer necessitated by a new funding structure for schools initiated this year. They also approved an expenditure of no more than $4,500 for a school surveillance system.