By Shari Faye Dell (West Marin Citizen July 20, 2010)
Educator Melissa Riley will teach first grade at Inverness school this fall after a controversial vote at the second special school board meeting in as many weeks approved funds to reinstate the popular bilingual teacher.
The sense of relief was palpable in the Tomales High school library on Tuesday night, where the meeting was held, but was tinged with the district superintendent’s message that this was not a true solution but merely put off hard decisions and perpetuated a budget shortfall for another year.
Most of those present seemed ok with that.
Less than two weeks earlier parents decried a similar vote which failed to produce the necessary support. Only five of seven trustees were present at the July 8 meeting where the board considered reinstating Riley using the district’s general funds – the traditional source for paying staff.
At that meeting, three trustees – Tim Kehoe, Jane Healy and Scott McMorrow – voted to employ Riley. Julie Titus and Monique Moretti did not. A minimum of four votes was needed. Jim Lino and Jill Manning Sartori were not present, resulting in a significant statistical disadvantage for Riley.
Days later board president Jim Lino asked for a re-vote, but the source of funds this time would be the West Marin School's discretionary budget, called "site-specific funds." The offer came from West Marin School principal Anne Harris.
While Harris’ offer to use her discretionary funds helped propel the re-vote, trustee Manning Sartori on Tuesday moved to amend the motion back to the original, to keep the source of money the district’s general fund. The motion passed.
Tuesday’s vote to rehire Riley using general funds passed unanimously.
Riley also teaches Spanish at West Marin School parttime. Along with bilingual teachers Sharon Zarate and Anne Halley Harper, the three comprise a literacy intervention program at the school where roughly half the students are Latino. West Marin School this year won a coveted “Distinguished School” award largely because of this program.
Tuesday’s vote makes Riley a fulltime employee, but she is still considered a temporary hire. For such employees, the district does not have to ensure a source of funding for three years as it does for tenured staff.
District superintendent Rosenthal warned trustees on Tuesday they would face the same vote again next spring when pink slips must be delivered to staff without secure funding. “I have really struggled with this,” Rosenthal said. “I have concerns with where we are going regarding staffing and budget. We need to continue to talk about it. As long as the board fully understands that unless there is some sort of radical change, such as retirements or a teacher on leave not coming back, that this can only be for one year.”
Rosenthal offered his support while clarifying his long-term stance. “I will be coming to you in February and/or March asking for at least the temporary staff to be laid off. I am making this statement right now, publicly, so that everyone understands that for obvious reasons, we are not out of the financial high water, by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, luck has been on our side, somehow we keep riding it in a very lucky way.”
It was principal Harris whose final words before the vote charted a clear course for trustees and compelled them to follow the district’s own strategic plan, called a “position paper.”
“Going back to the ‘position paper’ the board asked me to write six months ago, the first priority is classroom teachers,” Harris said. “The second priority is intervention support. Restoring [Riley’s position] gives us both of those things.”
Harris went on to say, “I worked for a long time with staff and with parents regarding [the drafting of] that position paper. At every staff and site council meeting we reviewed budget, checked priorities and double-checked priorities,” she said. “We are very united as a school community. That is where our priorities are. And that is where our priorities need to be – for our students, our classroom teachers and our intervention support for students who are struggling. Everything else comes after that.”