SCHOOL DISTRICT IN LIM-BO
PETITION TO RECALL FOUR BOARDMEMBERS IS PLANNED; INTERIM NAMED
By STEVEN TAVARES
The CitizenNewton's first law of motion states, said Pamela Lowe, a first grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. At times, Tuesday night, the laws of nature were turned upside down as parents and teachers criticized the sudden firing of San Leandro School Superintendent Christine Lim.
The San Leandro School Board voted to dismiss Lim in closed session last December and announced their decision Jan. 5 without details of the outcome. Board President Mike Katz announced Tuesday night, the board had voted to relieve Lim, 4-3, with Trustees Morgan Mack-Rose, Diana Prola, Hermy Almonte and Katz voting with the majority. Katz also announced the naming of Cindy Cathey as the interim superintendent.
A group of parents also told the board they intend to file a recall petition with the Alameda County clerk against the four trustees who voted for Lim's removal on the grounds of members violating the Brown Act and irresponsible use of public funds.
The firing of Lim had been rumored for months and became imminent as the makeup of the board was transformed through elections at the end of 2008. Mack-Rose, Almonte and Prola all campaigned on their willingness to deal more aggressively with Lim, whose style, many detractors say, rubbed many in the teachers union the wrong way.
A group of Lim's supporters distributed an email sent in August from a member of the San Leandro Teacher's Association (SLTA) calling on members to tell Mack-Rose and Almonte to "do what they were elected to do, and that was to bring Superintendent Lim's term in San Leandro to an end."
The email was often cited by parents and teachers and critics say points to the lack of transparency the board has exhibited by refusing to discuss the reasons behind Lim's firing, calling it a "personnel issue."
“Is this the reason you came to the board?” parent Hendy Huang asked Mack-Rose and Almonte, “You're suppose to listen to the voters, not the SLTA.” Diane Wang, a teacher in the district says the firing has made teachers cautious about the future with difficult budget decisions on the horizon this year.
“To suddenly fire the superintendent, who may of had an adversarial relationship with the union or even with some of us, has made many of us feel insecure,” said Wang, who later wondered whether some teachers would meet the same fate as Lim saying, "You just want us all to know our place and if you don't get those test scores up, you're next.”
Many were also concerned with the decision within the context of the poor economy, where the school district has been hit harder than most public agencies. “We must have a lot of money if you can send her off on a vacation and also pay to have someone else do the job," said parent Tina Dumas. It is estimated Lim is due to receive nearly half of her $215,000 yearly salary until June.
Many in the teachers union have pointed to what they say is a lack of respect for its members, but even representatives of the executive board have been tight-lipped on reiterating the list of Lim's transgressions. SLTA Boardmember Mark Hamilton said her treatment of the union is their main complaint against Lim, but offered no specifics.
Parent and San Leandro business owner Tim Holmes was one of the few who countered numerous speakers by telling the board Lim's dismissal rests solely on her performance, “During Lim's tenure as superintendent the school district went from cooperation and openness to one which lacks follow through, has limited criticism through secrecy and gives lip service to parental involvement,” said Holmes.
Lim sat at the dais stoically throughout the discussion, barely acknowledging those who thanked her for her work with a slight nod. She addressed the board with a lengthy list of her accomplishments during six years in San Leandro, highlighted by her attention to helping minority students and educators. "It may have not been fast enough. I may have not been good enough," Lim said, "but when I got here, our black and brown kids were not achieving."
The political ramifications regarding the board's decision, other than the specter of a recall campaign, is the possibility the issue will linger for much of the year as members are challenged why certain cuts are made to the school district's budget in relation to the perceived expenditure Lim's firing adds to their dire fiscal situation. One member, Trustee Pauline Cutter, who voted against firing Lim, is running to replace Bill Stephens on the San Leandro City Council and former member Steven Cassidy is running for mayor.
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