CERRITOS — At the conclusion of a debate that drew a standing-room-only crowd and ended near midnight on Monday, ABC Unified School District board members decided to stick with a controversial staffing plan to convert an elementary school into the district's first magnet school.
Expressing their displeasure with the vote, some teachers took off their union badges inscribed with "A Better Climate For Teachers" and plunked them down noisily on an empty table in front of the seven-member board as they left the room.
A spokesman for the ABC Federation of Teachers said the union will immediately file a grievance against the district alleging that it has violated the teachers' contract.
Nearly 30 speakers, including teachers, parents and teachers union officials, pleaded their position for more than three hours before the board took a vote. More than 150 people attended the meeting.
The board voted 4-3 to continue a plan to convert Niemes Elementary School in Artesia into an alternative school by opening positions now held by the Niemes teachers to all teachers in the district. In doing that, the board rejected a proposal supported by the teachers union to give instructors at the school first crack at the jobs.
The Niemes program is scheduled to open in the fall with a curriculum that will differ from other elementary schools in the district by having a heavy emphasis on fine arts, literature, decision making and critical thinking. Details of the program are still being worked out.
So far, 36 teachers have applied for the 24 positions at Niemes. That includes 17 Niemes teachers, said Terry McAlpine, district public information officer.
"This is demoralizing. The board made a terrible mistake," John Ennes, president of the ABC Federation of Teachers, said in an interview following the board vote.
"The district will not get this program," Ennes said. He said the union will file a grievance against the district and request a state arbitrator to take the case to binding arbitration.
On the other hand, Dixie Primosch, another parent and a Niemes Site Council member who supported the original plan, praised the board vote.
"This is fantastic. All teachers will get a chance to work in this program," she said.
Loud rounds of applause followed the speakers representing the different groups.
"I've received excellent evaluation from three different principals at Niemes. Now, I feel my position is up for grabs," said Thelma Diaz, a first-grade bilingual teacher at Niemes.
Diaz spoke in Spanish, then translated. A number of parents also spoke in Spanish and had their messages translated into English by interpreters.
"I am very pleased with all of my children's teachers. They have progressed very well in both English and Spanish," said Jose Ibarra, a parent who supported the Niemes teachers getting the first opportunity at the jobs.
"I resent having to have to apply (for a position)," said Terry Walz, a second-grade teacher at Niemes.
Petitions in favor of opening the jobs up to all teachers--said to contain 221 signatures of parents and other supporters of the program--were presented to the Board of Education by Yolanda Duenas, a Niemes parent.
The board Monday was faced with amending its original proposal, unanimously adopted April 21, which called for teachers to apply from throughout the district and to be evaluated and selected by a committee of two parents, two teachers and a district administrator, with the Niemes principal giving final approval of those selected.
'Violated the Contract'
After the board's April 21 vote, Ennes said, the union concluded that the plan "violated the Niemes teachers' rights. It violated the contract agreement, which says that teachers cannot be moved involuntarily."
The union then lobbied the board for a compromise proposal. The board met in closed session May 5 and discussed a second proposal, which would have eliminated the screening committee and allowed teachers at Niemes School to have first choice at the jobs.
During that meeting, board members were polled on the compromise, which would permit only the principal to make the final selection of teachers, and the vote was 4-3 to reject the new proposal, according to Board President Peggy Lee.
Lee, who voted against the compromise May 5, changed her vote Monday night and voted in favor. "It is my decision to change my vote. I'm willing to change," said Lee, the only board member who has publicly discussed how she voted May 5.
During Monday's vote, Lee and board members Elizabeth Hutcheson and Dianne R. Xitco voted for the compromise. Board members Richard Arthur, Homer Lewis, Catherine Grant and Barbara Goul voted for the original proposal.
Since the April 21 vote, a lot of bitterness has been expressed and accusations made by various factions.
Before Monday's vote, District Supt. Eugene Tucker said he favored giving the Niemes teachers the first chance at the jobs.
"It is a clear indication that we should be moving on and healing some wounds," said Tucker, who described himself as a "lame-duck superintendent." He has been hired by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and is due to leave the district Tuesday.
"The compromise proposal will work. Teachers who are not comfortable in the program will leave and others will apply," Tucker said.
Tucker cautioned that "if we are not careful, we're going to have a party and no one is going to show up."
Joan Elliot, a Cerritos High School teacher and a staff member of the teacher's union, predicted, "This rancor and bitterness will last a long time in the district."