On Friday, May 17, teachers from Sweetwater’s Regional Occupation/Career Technical Education program attended a hearing in district offices in hopes of averting their fate — they are scheduled to lose their jobs in June. Last March, in a move unprecedented in the county, the Sweetwater district eliminated their entire ROP/CTE program.
The program has in the past provided career-opportunity training for students who were enrolled in Sweetwater's 9–12 district and for adult students who were seeking to upgrade skills. Course offerings included veterinarian-assistant programs, construction programs, medical assistance programs, and automotive programs.
California Teachers Association attorney Fern Steiner represented the teachers in this RIF (reduction in force) hearing. In a May 17 interview, Steiner commented that “No other district had done away with all of their ROP teachers.” Steiner attributed this to “the district’s failure to understand the criticality of a career path for students.” (Steiner had been a phlebotomist in Chicago while attending law school.)
Steiner was also shocked that the lives of the teachers and students could be “upended” by only two trustee votes. Trustees John McCann and Jim Cartmill voted to eradicate the program; trustees Pearl Quiñones and Bertha Lopez voted to continue the program; trustee Arlie Ricasa abstained; however, the board’s bylaws count an abstention as a “yes” vote.
The faces of the teachers were grim as Albert Alt, Sweetwater’s recently hired chief financial officer, took the witness stand on May 17. The issue, according to the district, is that the ROP funding money from the state passes through and is disbursed by the County Office of Education. Alt testified that the only assurances the office of Education would give him — even after the governor’s May budget revision — is that the district would receive “from 0% to 99%.”
Contacted by email on May 22, Alt said he spoke on the 21st with Lora Duzyk, chief business officer of the San Diego County Office of Education, and she affirmed that there is no news yet on funding.
The teachers attending last Friday’s hearing questioned why other districts had expanded their course offerings and recruited more teachers even though they, too, are funded through the County Office of Education.
ROP teachers also commented that they do many additional jobs on their school sites — jobs that no one else wants to do. They informed the Reader that they act as community-service reps, supervise proms, coach various sports — in short, fill in the gaps to keep the schools running.
Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Teachers Association, expressed concern that last year the district had borrowed $1.5 million from the ROP funding.
Funding may still become available to restore some teachers’ positions; however, sources say Sweetwater’s ROP/CTE offices on Second Avenue will be closed and reopened as a district charter school.
If the district reinstitutes an ROP/CTE program, teachers will be called back in order of seniority.