A showdown is expected Monday among angry parents, teachers, teachers' union officials and trustees of the ABC Unified School District who are struggling over a plan to convert an elementary school into the district's first magnet school.
An overflow crowd is expected to attend the meeting when the seven-member board is to debate and take a final vote on the proposal to change Niemes Elementary School in Artesia next fall into an alternative school with a curriculum that will differ from other elementary schools in the district.
From all indications, the different factions appeared to agree on the initial conversion plan until shortly after the school board voted unanimous approval of the project April 21. Then the fighting started.
The disagreement revolves around the way teachers will be selected to work at Niemes, where school spokesmen say the new curriculum will have a heavy emphasis on fine arts, literature, decision making and critical thinking.
Two teacher groups want the 22 teachers now at Niemes to get first shot at the jobs. Some parents, though, say the best teachers--no matter where in the district they are teaching now--should be brought into the new program. And the board of trustees--which had originally opened the positions up to all district teachers--now seems to be leaning the other way.
Under the proposal adopted April 21, teachers applying from throughout the district would be evaluated and selected by a committee consisting of two parents, two teachers and a district administrator with the Niemes principal giving final approval of those selected.
Plans Upset Teachers
Two days after it was approved, Supt. Eugene Tucker explained to the Niemes teaching staff how the proposal would work. At that point, the teachers got upset.
John Ennes, president of the ABC Federation of Teachers, said the plan would "violate the Niemes teachers' rights. It violates the teachers' contract, which guarantees that people cannot be moved involuntarily."
The ABC Teachers Assn., which is a rival of the ABC Federation of Teachers, agreed. "We are even screaming about it and we are not the bargaining unit for the teachers," said John Burritt, executive director of the ABC Teachers Assn. "This plan is a subterfuge to get rid of some teachers."
A group of parents stood up for the plan adopted by the trustees. Susan McNutt, a parent and chairwoman of the Niemes School Site Council, said most parents feel it makes sense to allow all the district's teachers to apply for the new program.
"The school needs a new start. Nothing has been done for our school in years," McNutt said.
Another parent, Dixie Primosch, complained that "the union has put so much pressure on the board that it is now wavering."
Indeed, the school board met in closed session May 5 and discussed a second proposal, which would eliminate the screening committee and allow teachers currently at Niemes to have the first shot at the jobs, said board President Peggy Lee.
During that meeting, board members were polled on that proposal, which would permit only the principal to make the final selection of teachers, Lee said. She said the board voted 4 to 3 to reject the new proposal, which she called a compromise.
"I will now vote for that compromise (Monday) which gives teachers on the Niemes site first choice at the positions," said Lee, who was the swing vote that defeated the new proposal.
Tucker said he also favors the compromise proposal because "it is a reasonable approach."
Ennes said under the proposal to be voted on Monday, the magnet school concept would be explained to "Niemes teachers who could remain there by simply saying they are committed to the program. There would be no evaluation. Those that wish to leave and go to other schools could."
If the district sticks with its original evaluation and selection plan, Ennes said, the union will file a grievance against the district and request a state arbitrator to take the case to binding arbitration.
"We would request that the alternative program be closed down and that the original teachers be given their jobs back. This would be a lengthy process and everyone would suffer," Ennes said.
But Primosch said she and McNutt will present the trustees Monday with petitions asking that the district "get the teachers who are most committed to the alternative program."
School Needed 'Shot in Arm'
Tucker said the alternative program is being attempted at Niemes because "there had been no really innovative program in the past and the school needed a shot in the arm."
"The final concept of the program is still being worked out," said Terry MacAlpine, district public information officer, but she said it will include a "literature-based reading program" with emphasis on writing, storytelling, choral speaking, poetry, science and social studies for the more than 500 students at the Artesia school.
The program, MacAlpine said, will de-emphasize drill and workbook learning and put a greater emphasis on independent and group learning projects. Eventually, she said, the program will be open to all elementary students in the district and transfers would occur when there are openings.