By Susan Luzzaro
Sweetwater meetings continue to be long. The July 13 meeting did not recess until after midnight; many believe it reflects the new board and new superintendent’s commitment to transparency. More than an hour of the July 13 meeting was devoted to gathering information from South Bay Community Services CEO, Kathryn Lembo, and Director of Youth Services, Mauricio Torre, about the services they provide to students.
In the end trustees passed two agreements with South Bay Community Services that total $1,134,000—but not before considering the concerns of community and district personnel.
Parent and community advocate Stewart Payne told the trustees that the agreements with SBCS needed more precise language about accountability. He said, “They’re doing sports, they’re doing art, they’re doing music, they’re doing homelessness, they’re doing child welfare, they’re doing everything, but these Memorandums of Understanding give you absolutely nothing by which to hold them accountable. They don’t spell out specifically what it is they should do…there are no teeth in these agreements.”
One of the services offered by South Bay Community Services is academic intervention by tutors who work with students at risk of failing. Community advocates have persistently asked about what kind of training the tutors receive and if they are trained in the new common core curriculum.
According to CEO Lembo, the tutors must have at least 48 college credits. She added that through SBCS they are also trained in child abuse, foster care and homeless issues. After that she said it is up to the individual schools to give additional training to the tutors.
Director Torre pointed out that SBCS programs are not just for the students who are failing academically, but also for the students who need enrichment.
Another issue before the trustees was whether the positions have been offered or should be offered to district staff before being offered to SBCS employees.
Troy Johnson and Diana Clayton, representing local chapters of the California School Employees Association brought documentation to the trustees that demonstrated that after school positions had not been offered to employees of Sweetwater in previous years. Clayton made the point that she and many of her co-workers already work in the capacity of tutors for AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and as instructional assistants.
Clayton further made the point that many CSEA employees only work 61/2 hours a day, and that many of them have to take on a second job to make ends meet.
The district’s agreement appears to address CSEA’s complaint. The agreement states: “The contract with South Bay Community Services will provide staff for the program only in the event that employees of the Sweetwater Union High school District show no interest in the positions.”
In a followup conversation, Clayton expressed reservation about the effectiveness of noticing the employees about openings at this late date; the new school year begins next week.
Looking to the future, Superintendent Karen Janney said that the district will be committed to tracking the academics and behavior of the students who attend the after school programs. Janney promised the trustees quarterly reports. The agreement is effective July 1 2015 and terminates on June 26, 2016. Trustees have expressed interest in exploring other options to support students’ after school needs in the future.