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San Diego Unified revokes then reinstates benefits for Gompers Prep founders

After 15 years of success, why now?

Cecil Steppe: "Why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?” - Image by Chris Murray
Cecil Steppe: "Why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?”

On Tuesday, January 12, parents and teachers from Gompers Preparatory Academy pleaded with the San Diego Unified school board to restore on-loan agreements the district made with four of their founding staff members 15 years ago.

Director Vincent Riveroll, executive assistant Paz Garcia, assistant director Lisa Maples and Welcome Center lead Judith Franceschi were notified a year in advance their on-loan status would be phased out July 1, 2021. They would have to choose between keeping their jobs at the Chollas View charter school or keeping their employment with the district.

Deidre Walsh, director of the district’s Office of Charter Schools, stated in an October 27, 2020 memo, “As members represented by the district’s labor organizations, the four on-loan employees receive district salaries and benefits, as well as other protections and benefits offered by the collective bargaining agreements. In contrast, all other Gompers employees receive Gompers salary and benefits... Ending on-loan agreements ensures all Gompers workers are treated equitably.”

The January 12 board meeting was the first to include remote public comment by video. Fifteen public commenters were unanimous in asking the board to reinstate the on-loan agreements and make them good for life. The consensus was these founders are vital to the school’s well-being.

Trustee Kevin Beiser: “I remember when Gompers was not a charter school...The students were in control...They would throw their chairs and desks out the window."

Parents told stories of their children graduating from Gompers and becoming the first in their family to go to college. In tears, one parent said she wanted her fifth grader to go to Gompers and wanted it to be the same school her older child benefitted from. (The school has grades 6-12.)

Gompers chairman Cecil Steppe told the story of a violent failing school Riveroll was asked to turn around in 2004. He said, “We either had to correct the behavior and outcomes at Gompers or the state would have to take over...That’s when you as a board asked [the four founders] to enter into on-loan agreements to do this important work [of turning Gompers into a charter] but retain their benefits. They honored your request and did so with the assurance of indefinite return rights. After 15 years of success and after four previous superintendents honored this agreement, why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?”

After public comment, board trustee Richard Barrera motioned to delay the item to a future board meeting and questioned why these staff need to remain employed by the district.

Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who represents Gompers in District E, countered, “If we did [make that commitment] then like it or not we should honor that...for the tenure of these four employees.”

“It didn’t matter to the union leaders that 86% of teachers wanted it."

Trustee Kevin Beiser agreed with her. He said, “I remember when [Gompers] was not a charter school...The students were in control...They would throw their chairs and desks out the window. You couldn’t hire a teacher. They would quit before 10 am their first day.”

Trustee Sabrina Bazzo, new to the board, said, “I feel like there’s a lot of attention being paid to just four staff members out of a huge district and we have so many other important issues… that we’re spending a huge amount of time on what is only affecting...those four people...” Then she stated she wanted to spend more time figuring out why Gompers “can’t support” their employees.

Beiser responded, “These pioneers had the courage to go to this school and turn it around...Let’s make an exception for four people who’ve made a phenomenal impact on the lives of thousands of children in San Diego.”

The board voted 5-0 to reinstate on-loan agreements.

Barrera changed his mind and decided to approve the lifetime on-loan agreements. But before the vote was taken his tone changed to that of a parent scolding a child as he said, “I hope the Gompers board has heard loudly and clearly that as this board moves forward to honor the ability of four of your employees to continue to be employees of this district with full union representation and union negotiated benefits that we are not unaware that you have been found by the Public Employee Relations Board to have committed unfair labor practices...As this board moves forward to do the right thing for your community…[we have] an expectation that you will do the right thing by your own employees.” The board voted 5-0 to reinstate on-loan agreements for as long as the four work at Gompers.

Gompers visual arts teacher Mary Davis says, “When Barrera said there was an unfair labor practices judgment, he left out the fact that the case was never heard (the school lost on procedural grounds) and is now up for appeal.”

Parallel to the controversy over on-loan agreements has been controversy and division at Gompers over the recent introduction of a union to the school, as Joe Deegan reported for the Reader last August.

Davis says, “Barrera knew there was a union at my school before I knew. I found out there was a union from a letter Barrera put in my mailbox. What does that signify?”

She continues, “100% of support staff, 86% of teachers and 824 parents and community members signed a petition to support reinstating the on-loan agreements. Numerous staff sent letters to the Gompers Teachers Association saying, ‘With 86% of union members wanting to support the founders would you please send a letter of support on our behalf?’ They refused.

“It didn’t matter to the union leaders that 86% of teachers wanted it. I respect someone’s personal decision not to sign a petition but when your members as a supermajority are asking you and [as the union] you refuse, that’s questionable.

“This moment could have been a phenomenal unifying event bringing everybody together. If the union had sent a letter to the school board supporting our founders it could have healed and brought back trust. But the union was formed by disgruntled teachers, some of whom have already left. That’s what I say about the belief system. You don’t leave if you really believe in Gomper’s students first mission.”

Chemistry teacher Dr. Kristie Chiscano says, “This is what you call a heavy lifting job. You take a class two grade levels below and you have to get them college ready. You are a parent, a teacher, a supervisor and a counselor. It’s not for everybody. We’re in this marathon and we’re not done yet. There’s so much more the school wants to do and the community wants to see happen.”

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Cecil Steppe: "Why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?” - Image by Chris Murray
Cecil Steppe: "Why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?”

On Tuesday, January 12, parents and teachers from Gompers Preparatory Academy pleaded with the San Diego Unified school board to restore on-loan agreements the district made with four of their founding staff members 15 years ago.

Director Vincent Riveroll, executive assistant Paz Garcia, assistant director Lisa Maples and Welcome Center lead Judith Franceschi were notified a year in advance their on-loan status would be phased out July 1, 2021. They would have to choose between keeping their jobs at the Chollas View charter school or keeping their employment with the district.

Deidre Walsh, director of the district’s Office of Charter Schools, stated in an October 27, 2020 memo, “As members represented by the district’s labor organizations, the four on-loan employees receive district salaries and benefits, as well as other protections and benefits offered by the collective bargaining agreements. In contrast, all other Gompers employees receive Gompers salary and benefits... Ending on-loan agreements ensures all Gompers workers are treated equitably.”

The January 12 board meeting was the first to include remote public comment by video. Fifteen public commenters were unanimous in asking the board to reinstate the on-loan agreements and make them good for life. The consensus was these founders are vital to the school’s well-being.

Trustee Kevin Beiser: “I remember when Gompers was not a charter school...The students were in control...They would throw their chairs and desks out the window."

Parents told stories of their children graduating from Gompers and becoming the first in their family to go to college. In tears, one parent said she wanted her fifth grader to go to Gompers and wanted it to be the same school her older child benefitted from. (The school has grades 6-12.)

Gompers chairman Cecil Steppe told the story of a violent failing school Riveroll was asked to turn around in 2004. He said, “We either had to correct the behavior and outcomes at Gompers or the state would have to take over...That’s when you as a board asked [the four founders] to enter into on-loan agreements to do this important work [of turning Gompers into a charter] but retain their benefits. They honored your request and did so with the assurance of indefinite return rights. After 15 years of success and after four previous superintendents honored this agreement, why is our superintendent revoking these rights? Why now?”

After public comment, board trustee Richard Barrera motioned to delay the item to a future board meeting and questioned why these staff need to remain employed by the district.

Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who represents Gompers in District E, countered, “If we did [make that commitment] then like it or not we should honor that...for the tenure of these four employees.”

“It didn’t matter to the union leaders that 86% of teachers wanted it."

Trustee Kevin Beiser agreed with her. He said, “I remember when [Gompers] was not a charter school...The students were in control...They would throw their chairs and desks out the window. You couldn’t hire a teacher. They would quit before 10 am their first day.”

Trustee Sabrina Bazzo, new to the board, said, “I feel like there’s a lot of attention being paid to just four staff members out of a huge district and we have so many other important issues… that we’re spending a huge amount of time on what is only affecting...those four people...” Then she stated she wanted to spend more time figuring out why Gompers “can’t support” their employees.

Beiser responded, “These pioneers had the courage to go to this school and turn it around...Let’s make an exception for four people who’ve made a phenomenal impact on the lives of thousands of children in San Diego.”

The board voted 5-0 to reinstate on-loan agreements.

Barrera changed his mind and decided to approve the lifetime on-loan agreements. But before the vote was taken his tone changed to that of a parent scolding a child as he said, “I hope the Gompers board has heard loudly and clearly that as this board moves forward to honor the ability of four of your employees to continue to be employees of this district with full union representation and union negotiated benefits that we are not unaware that you have been found by the Public Employee Relations Board to have committed unfair labor practices...As this board moves forward to do the right thing for your community…[we have] an expectation that you will do the right thing by your own employees.” The board voted 5-0 to reinstate on-loan agreements for as long as the four work at Gompers.

Gompers visual arts teacher Mary Davis says, “When Barrera said there was an unfair labor practices judgment, he left out the fact that the case was never heard (the school lost on procedural grounds) and is now up for appeal.”

Parallel to the controversy over on-loan agreements has been controversy and division at Gompers over the recent introduction of a union to the school, as Joe Deegan reported for the Reader last August.

Davis says, “Barrera knew there was a union at my school before I knew. I found out there was a union from a letter Barrera put in my mailbox. What does that signify?”

She continues, “100% of support staff, 86% of teachers and 824 parents and community members signed a petition to support reinstating the on-loan agreements. Numerous staff sent letters to the Gompers Teachers Association saying, ‘With 86% of union members wanting to support the founders would you please send a letter of support on our behalf?’ They refused.

“It didn’t matter to the union leaders that 86% of teachers wanted it. I respect someone’s personal decision not to sign a petition but when your members as a supermajority are asking you and [as the union] you refuse, that’s questionable.

“This moment could have been a phenomenal unifying event bringing everybody together. If the union had sent a letter to the school board supporting our founders it could have healed and brought back trust. But the union was formed by disgruntled teachers, some of whom have already left. That’s what I say about the belief system. You don’t leave if you really believe in Gomper’s students first mission.”

Chemistry teacher Dr. Kristie Chiscano says, “This is what you call a heavy lifting job. You take a class two grade levels below and you have to get them college ready. You are a parent, a teacher, a supervisor and a counselor. It’s not for everybody. We’re in this marathon and we’re not done yet. There’s so much more the school wants to do and the community wants to see happen.”

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7

This sort of fumbling and bumbling has characterized the district for years. Supes come and go but the ineptitude carries on. Now the current supe, who has many detractors, is joining the Biden team in DC. That's a perfect example of someone being "kicked upstairs." Just what has she done, other than survive her hot seat, while in charge? Ans: Nothing notable that I can identify. But now she can bring her limited competence to the national stage, and foul up there.

Isn't it odd that Riveroll, with his gold-plated benefits package doesn't extend the same deal to his own teaching and classified staff? Claiming that Gompers Charter can't afford to do that rings hollow. If anyone ever wanted to know the payoff of setting up these quasi-independent charter schools, this tells it all. Pay the teachers less, no tenure protection, and less pay and benefits. Why would any teacher, administrator or classified employee want to work for a charter school?

Jan. 19, 2021

Actually, the "gold-plated benefits package" belongs to outgoing Social-Worker-in-Chief Cindy Marten who was elevated from grammar school to superintendent by Richard Barrera seven long years ago. Marten's annual salary is $332,404.

Jan. 19, 2021

She, like every supe in the state, is paid far more than should be necessary to get a good person to run things. Then those same admin types complain about poor funding of the schools, all the while surrounding themselves with more overpaid drones. The pattern is so well established now that it is self-perpetuating.

Jan. 21, 2021

I am sick at heart to read this report about de facto Superintendent of Schools Richard Barrera, (actually a trade unionist and four-term school board shoo-in for lack of election opponents,) going after Vince Riveroll, founding head of Gompers Preparatory Charter School and three other staffers. Barrera threatened to renege on lifetime on-loan employment commitments from San Diego Unified School District to people who have devoted their professional lives to creating a rare seriously academic secondary school in southeast San Diego.

I well remember the transformation of Gompers from a low-performing dispirited and dangerous place to a charter school with strong community support, volunteer commitments from UCSD educators and a talented, devoted, charismatic leader in Vince Riveroll.

Charter schools are legal public schools, but when they are successful, they become targets of teachers' union opposition and harassment if not union takeover. Barrera attempted a union win in this shameful end-run.. Gompers Preparatory is one of the most effective charter schools in our city. Under Principal Vince Riveroll, Gompers actually educates its students, encourages them to attend college, follows them along the way, works positively against tremendous socio-economic odds at every turn.

Jan. 19, 2021

Forgive me, monaghan, if I'm a bit skeptical about Gompers. Over the years we heard wonderful things about it from time to time that were pure fabrications. During the "busing for racial balance" days, it was a magnet school for the white kids from north of I-8, and they were physically separated from the local kids who had not chosen to be bused to white neighborhoods. If it is as good as you--and it--proclaim, that would be a near miracle. But what is so bad about having a union there? Are you anti-union?

Jan. 21, 2021

Read what I said:. This is about school board president Richard Barrera trying to decapitate Gompers Preparatory School by breaking a "lifetime" salary guarantee from the school district to Vince Riveroll, the school's charismatic founder and principal. Riveroll and the community built this 20-year-old Gompers charter from the shambles of its former incarnation into arguably the most academically aspirational secondary school in southeast San Diego. I believe Gompers recently may have voted to unionize. Teachers unions, which once approved public charters, lately target them for vendetta.. Sabotaging Riveroll's salary would have been quite a coup toward that end. Good thing the shameful attempt failed.

Jan. 21, 2021

There was a time when those SDUSD trustee seats were hotly contested, heavily reported, and most visible. Now, as you point out Barrera and others have had no opponents when up for re-election. Why is that? Could it be that nobody who has true public spirit thinks that serving on that board would make any sort of real difference? Frankly, I don't know, but I see similar things happening here in No County. Remember Vista back in the 90's? Those were some wild times for our district.

Jan. 22, 2021

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