July 15, 2005

Memorial Academy in the middle of controversy

Critics question the legality of board election process.

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

A group of community members and teachers at Memorial Academy Charter School, in Barrio Logan, calling themselves “Friends of Memorial” are questioning the process that elected several members of Unión del Barrio, a political organization in San Diego, to the school board.

The controversial election took place during the June 21 board meeting, when the interim board of directors was to elect the final school board for the next school year.

In a letter dated June 30, Friends of Memorial described the election process. (Editor’s note: No members of the Friends of Memorial showed up at the school board meeting. The letter was read aloud by Board President Benjamin Prado.)

“In a move that would make the Bush administration proud Union del Barrio was able to manipulate the voting procedures by using a serial process. Due to a lack of understanding of how the election would take place the Union created a situation where, instead of voting on all candidates at one time, they voted on prospective board members one at a time. After a new member was voted to the board they were immediately given the ability to second motions and voting power and thus allowed to vote on the next person coming up,” reads the letter.

After that election, six of the total 11 board members, are also members of Union del Barrio and its projects: board president Benjamin Prado, Harry Simon, Rafael Uribe, Cecilia Ubilla, Guillermo Gomez and Ramiro Rojas.

“Through shady maneuvers and a potentially illegal election Unión del Barrio has solidified a majority on the board,” Friends of Memorial stated.

“Though this act is potentially illegal and could lead to the charter being pulled by the district it is the deceitful and unprincipled nature of the participants in this charade that irks many of the progressive teachers and former Unión del Barrio allies on campus.”

Initially, Union del Barrio was supposed to have Prado as representative at the board, the letter reads.

“As a community group doing work in the area surrounding Memorial it was important for Unión del Barrio to play a role in the creation of this new school. It was intended to give them a voice through Ben Prado (who was nominated as interim board president). It was not intended for this to be a project of Union del Barrio.”

But Board President Benjamin Prado, who’s also a member of Union del Barrio, said that the election process was clean and fair.

“It was an open process where the public knew how it was going to develop,” he said. “The interim board invited all of the community to nominate people they believed could be on the new board. Candidates were invited to participate at a public forum on June 16. Then, on June 20, the interim board voted to elect the new members. I repeat, it was an open process.”

The controversy has escalated to such level that, at the July 12 school board meeting, board members Harry Simon and Guillermo Gomez resigned from the board through a letter that was read to the public.

Simon and Gomez weren’t present at the meeting. None of them could be reached for comment this week.

In a letter from Union del Barrio dated June 29, Simon defends the organization and declares that Union del Barrio had no intention of “taking over” the school board.

“We call on all honest individuals interested in the future of this school to redirect their criticisms of ‘lack of transparency’ away from Unión del Barrio and instead to those responsible for the current state of affairs at the school,” Simon writes.

“As a community based organization our members are encouraged to be active in community affairs, such as these changes that are occurring at Memorial. The activism of Union del Barrio members should be commended, not attacked. Union del Barrio will work to make Memorial a truly democratic school in the service of this community, in the interests of the students, while protecting the rights of those who work here.”

Interim Principal Sylvia Pedroarena said she didn’t have any comment about the controversy at this time.

Board member and Union del Barrio member Ramiro Rojas said that the controversy aroused after false rumors started spreading.

“Someone is using rumors to scare people,” Rojas said. “The fact is that instead of moving forward, we’re moving backwards. Memorial is worst than it was five years ago. If we don’t focus and improve our kids’ grades, we will fail.”

Memorial Academy is going through a period of many changes—and instability.

The school has been searching for a permanent principal to replace interim principal Sylvia Pedroarena.

So far, the school hasn’t received any applications for the position, said Noel Arvizu, board member representing the Memorial Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA)

“The school has struggled to find a new principal because there hasn’t been enough advertising for the post,” he said.

Arvizu said that the school needs to find a principal by the July 25 deadline.

“We’re hoping to interview at least three qualified candidates next week,” he said.

Return to the Frontpage