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Las Virgenes Teachers Criticize Schools Chief

Education: Association OKs vote of no-confidence in Supt. Fitzpatrick. He blames troubles on union president.

February 28, 2001|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A majority of teachers in the Las Virgenes School District have expressed dissatisfaction with the superintendent of the high-performing district, who promised to address some of the teachers' concerns Tuesday but dismissed their no-confidence vote as being orchestrated by a disgruntled union president.

Las Virgenes Supt. John Fitzpatrick lost the support of nearly all the 350 teachers who cast ballots at a Monday meeting of the Las Virgenes Educators Assn., which represents the district's 570 full-time instructors.

Fitzpatrick defended himself Tuesday, as did the school board president and a parents association leader, citing Las Virgenes' record-high standardized test scores, its National Merit Scholars, and the passage in 1997 of a $93-million school bond for building projects as reasons why his six years at the helm of the 12,000-student, 13-campus district have been successful.

Fitzpatrick called the teachers' vote a "personal attack by the president of the union on me because I've taken a strong stand on the side of kids and parents."

Union President Sandra Pope responded, "Unless I have some Svengali powers over teachers, I find it insulting and shortsighted to dismiss such an overwhelming vote of no-confidence by the teachers."

Among other criticisms, Pope said Fitzpatrick and the Las Virgenes administration do not communicate well with teachers, and the superintendent has failed to foster loyalty among the district's administrators.

Fitzpatrick acknowledged that there are communication problems in the district--for example, a newsletter was eliminated to save money--but he said the district has developed a plan to improve the way it shares information.

"We wouldn't have the results we have without [the teachers], and we just need to get back together and communicate in a positive way. Stop name-calling," Fitzpatrick said.

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Las Virgenes school board President Judy Jordan said she and the board disagree with the teachers' bleak assessment of Fitzpatrick but do not dismiss the faculty's concerns. "We respect and want the teachers and all our employees to be happy and feel included," Jordan said.

Bruce Kaye, who coordinates the Las Virgenes parent associations, called the teachers' vote counterproductive and not in the interest of students.

"The school district is not there for the teachers. It's there for the children," Kaye said. "The teachers need to stop playing politics and worry about doing a good job."

Last fall, Las Virgenes' teachers reached a three-year contract with the district that includes annual salary negotiations. This year's pay talks will be held in May or June. Fitzpatrick's $132,000-a-year contract runs until 2004.

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