BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Allegations of mishandling funds, nepotism and disrespecting employees are among the reasons parents, employees and residents are giving for why the school board shouldn’t renew the contract of Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff.
East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica along with parents and employees of the district yesterday protested against Hernandez-Goff outside of Bell Park on University Avenue.
It was one of several protests over the superintendent in the past few weeks.
It was clear that the 30 or so protesters were unhappy with the superintendent, but their reasons varied. However, in interviews with the Post, there was one thing that was consistent about the protesters: their concern for the children in the district.
Isabel Vargas has two children enrolled in the district’s preschool program that is closing in June and is slated to reopen in August under the county Board of Education’s control. She said the closure of the program could have been avoided with cuts of district positions and hiring fewer contractors, such as the district’s spokesman, Rolando Bonilla.
“Nothing is being used to benefit the kids, it’s being used to benefit the district’s pockets,” Vargas said. “Instead of spending any extra cash to hire a PR firm or lawyers, it could have been used to keep a teacher or classroom.”
The school board voted in February to hand over the district’s preschool program to the county Board of Education. The preschool, which has 140 students, costs the district $500,000 a year to operate, and it is not subsidized by the state.
Mayor Abrica pointed out that many of the teachers and employees at the preschool program were not high earners, but while those positions were cut, the district kept spending almost $200,000 on two positions. He referred to the $96,000 a year contract with Rolando Bonilla and his company Voler Strategic Advisors, and the $86,000 salary of John Denos.
Denos is Hernandez-Goff’s son who works as a data quality support technician and is paid $86,696 a year in salary and benefits.
Belle Haven kindergarten teacher Jose Ibarra said that Hernandez-Goff does not listen to the teachers at his school, and did not tell the teachers in advance about the transfer of Belle Haven Principal Todd Gaviglio to a central office position earlier this year.
“Even my kindergarteners are asking where Mr. Gaviglio is. The little ones are being affected by these changes in a negative way,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra has been teaching at the district for 22 years, and saw when the community participated in the ousting of Superintendent Charlie Knight, which included the election of a slate of reformers to the board in 2002, which included Gaviglio, Adam Mitchell and current trustee Marcelino Lopez.
“We got new board members then, and things got a little better, but the superintendent we have now is not doing what the community expects her to do,” Ibarra said.
Julian Garcia, a former Ravenswood student and employee (he was a teacher’s aide until being laid off in budget cuts last year), said he’s thinking of running for school board in November if he doesn’t see change — particularly if Hernandez-Goff stays.
Hernandez-Goff’s contract expires at the end of June and there has been mounting pressure on the school board to not renew her contract.
Teachers seek resignation
The pressure on the board began in May when 143 of the district’s 184 teachers signed a letter asking the superintendent to resign. Teachers were upset after Hernandez-Goff’ and other administrators allegedly told parents where teachers would be assigned for the next year before the instructors were notified. That created an “air of distrust,” her opponents said.
The calls for Hernandez-Goff’s resignation came in light of the district announcing it must cut $5 million to remain fiscally solvent. That led to the Feb. 8 meeting where the board voted 4-1 (Trustee Marilena Gaona-Mendoza recused herself) to end the district-funded preschool program and cut 83 jobs.
The heat was turned up when Gaviglio was reassigned. Earlier this month, about 200 students were kept home from school by their parents to protest the removal of Gaviglio.
But district spokesman Bonilla says the push to oust Hernandez-Goff is a “political ploy” by Abrica to destabilize the district.
“We know unequivocally that the vast majority of parents support the reform measures,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla also pointed to some of the successes of the district’s “reform,” which included revamping the district’s special education program so it did not have to be overseen by a federal judge, and opening a district-wide comprehensive middle school.
“We established a middle school to make sure our kids are prepared to go to (Menlo-Atherton High School) on day one, and that’s what we’re seeing now,” Bonilla said. “Reform is not unique but if folks are really worried about the well being and the future then reform is the only way. … Our goal is to get these children the opportunities to work at the tech companies they live nearby but right now aren’t represented at.”