An overflow crowd waited to address the Sweetwater board on March 11.
The March 11 Sweetwater Union High School District meeting opened with a presentation “On Civility,” which was delivered by one of the district’s attorneys, Dan Shinoff.
While Shinoff discoursed on the Constitution, Frederick Douglass, the Civil War, and John F. Kennedy, scores of soon-to-be-displaced Regional Occupation Program/Career Technical Education teachers, students, and students’ children stood outside the boardroom or crowded the entryway, hoping for a chance to speak.
The agenda was freighted with issues and many people waited well into the night to address the board and explain the importance of the ROP/CTE program — which predominantly serves the west side of Chula Vista.
One speaker, Vanessa Elario, who is taking a phlebotomy course through the program, explained that she is one of those who has been hurt by the economic downturn. The class she is attending is enabling her to start a new career. Additionally, she told the board, her 17-year-old son is taking maritime studies through the Regional Occupation Program.
Trustee Pearl Quiñones and Sweetwater Education Association president Alex Anguiano made forceful arguments against the cutting of teachers — and in turn 7000 students — from the program.
Quiñones argued that the $3 million needed to keep the program running was “a drop in the bucket compared to the district’s overall budget.” Prior to the meeting, she had contacted several other districts — including Grossmont and Oceanside —and learned that these districts had found ways to maintain similar programs.
According to Quiñones, Grossmont had already recruited one of Sweetwater’s culinary arts teachers.
Anguiano suggested that Sweetwater’s human relations department had given the district bad advice on which program cuts would lead to legal problems. Many of the teachers in this program are temporary employees, and Anguiano stated that it was not necessary to give pink slips to temporary employees,
Trustee Arlie Ricasa stated that she understood the district’s financial situation but wanted to see the ROP/CTE program restored if the money came through from the County Department of Education.
Quiñones questioned superintendent Ed Brand about the restoration of the program. She asked if the director, who will also receive a March 15 notice, would be reappointed. Brand said that was “an option.”
Quiñones also pointed out that the district’s investment in classrooms and equipment would be lost if these classes were eliminated. Brand countered that a special deal might be struck with the County Department of Education.
Ultimately, the board voted to eliminate the program in its entirety.
Trustees John McCann and Jim Cartmill voted for the cuts; trustees Pearl Quiñones and Bertha Lopez voted in opposition, and trustee Arlie Ricasa abstained. (In the case of a tie, an abstention counts as a “yes” vote.)