By: Brooks Hamby
e3 stands for three simple principles: community engagement, enhancing the quality and focus of education, and the empowerment of students, parents, and teachers in the providing of a strong education.
These values are about encouraging the democratization, greater inclusion and access, and the free sharing of ideas for educational improvement in Brawley schools. Finding new and creative ways of thinking and doing, to maximize the benefit of an education and resources for some of California’s most underserved children.
While e3’s goals seek to foster inclusion, creativity, interest, volunteerism, and the freedom to promote of new and innovative ideas, the current administrative rule at Brawley Elementary School District seems counter to these goals for simple enhancement and engagement.
The catalyst for e3 entering into the BESD election was the personal letter sent from BESD Superintendent Ronald Garcia addressed to Board Candidate Kathy Prior, and cc’d to BESD Board Members and Candidate Ramon Castro. In the letter, the appointed superintendent demanded Prior, “You will not disrespect me…” and stating “…I will not let you and other candidates threaten my position…” It should go without saying that Garcia overstepped his bounds and acted in away utterly inappropriate for a school superintendent. However, the letter begged questions about the situation at BESD that revealed certain unsettling truths and allegations far worse than the letter itself.
In a discussion with a group of teachers, they shared a number of alarming facts about what is occurring in their schools and classrooms. For the record, none of these elementary teachers allowed themselves to be named for the purpose of this piece, to be explained a little later in the article.
In one teacher’s 4th grade class, only 8/33 students are able to read at a 4th grade level, meaning 75% of the class is beneath reading proficiency upon entry into the next grade.
In a 3rd grade teacher’s class, she explained that 5/28 students are reading at a 3rd grade level. The class includes 9 advanced GATE students.
Another teacher stated that a child in her 4th grade class does not have the ability to speak English. To alleviate this, the district has saw fit to place the child in front of a language software computer program. Meaning, for about 5 hours daily the child had no ability to comprehend his class conducted in English, and was provided an impersonal 1 hour computer program at the end of the day.
Simply put, these stories are appalling.
This is especially baffling when compared to the district resources allocated to other programs.
To many of the teachers, there is a general sense of confusion about the rapidly growing number of high level district administrators during Garcia’s tenure, with one teacher mentioning, “We still don’t know what they do…” This stands in stark contrast to what many feel is an alarming disregard for the proper education of illiterate students, despite a mandated LCAP provision for an english as a second language type teaching position which has continually remained unfilled.
Teachers sense that there is a greater interest in growing highly paid district level administration positions and remodeling administrative offices, rather than a sense of urgency in serving kids who are unable to read properly, if at all.
It would seem reasonable that no student be able to advance a grade, or even pass first grade without the ability to read. Not to do so would frankly be immoral and is tantamount to child abuse.
Additionally, there seems to be a deeply worrying lack of dialogue between the teachers, administration, and the board largely viewed as resulting from fear of retaliation. Garcia has also inserted himself as a filter between the Board and the public by insisting that the Board may not respond to the public’s comments in questions in meeting, instead that all responses must flow through the Superintendent at a later time. This is wrong, and also begs the question on why a Board would place themselves under the self appointed power of an employee.
Instead, there is an apparent culture of fear of retaliation manifest in Brawley’s elementary schools stemming from Superintendent Ronald A. Garcia. Best summarizing the current situation, one teacher stated, “I have had to keep my mouth shut in order to protect my position” in regard to asking questions or engaging with Garcia. Teachers have noted that there is a severe lack of humility in taking questions or criticism, leading many not to engage in fear of retaliation from “sticking their neck out”. This includes the Superintendent’s alleged monitoring of social media for posts and online content critical of his actions or behavior. Unfortunately, what seems to be occurring is the instilling of a culture of fear, intimidation, and conformity to the increasingly brazen demands by the superintendent.
These traits of an aggressive and belligerent Superintendent are corroborated when looking into Garcia’s previous employment and termination as Superintendent of Delano School District in Kern County. Culminating his “tumultuous relationship with the board”, Garcia instigated a near physical fight with a board member in closed session according to police and court documents. This was apparently due to Garcia repeatedly making decisions without board approval stating he was not a “rubber stamp”. This near brawl lead to his teacher and board supported firing.
These statements and claims against Garcia are even more troubling when taking into account the financial issues raised since his appointment as Superintendent. In 2012, Garcia collected a total $172,026.77 in total pay and benefits. In just two years, his total pay and benefits skyrocketed to $223,797.34. In just two years, Garcia received a $51,770.57 raise.
Garcia also rakes in the largest sum of benefits, valued at $35,446. In comparison, the next highest district employee takes in $18,867, and the average benefits for a teacher is $12,206.
For further reference, the average base pay for teachers in the district is $67,200, $84,412 including total pay and benefits. Imperial County as the most impoverished county in the state with a per capita income at $16,593 annually.
While many in our community struggle with providing enough food for their families, Superintendent Garcia certainly seems not to face that problem. In addition to the $220,000 + package, the district has engaged in repeatedly reimbursing his morning coffees at Starbucks, Togo’s sandwiches, clothing, even down to a sharpie pen for signing diplomas.
What becomes clear in this situation is a bloated bureaucracy has taken shape that absorbs funds and resources that hardly manage to trickle down to the largely underprivileged students they were meant to serve.
e3 is all about improvement. Schools are about kids, and should not be focused on administration. Solutions to these problems are not difficult, they just take engagement and determination to creatively correct these problems. By engaging in these issues and taking an active role in seeking to enhance the use of funds and improvement of current education based on resources available or those that may be freed up, parents, teachers, candidates, and the community have a golden opportunity at empowering students as the next generations of citizens.
Here are some ways get involved:
Educate yourself on the current situations in our schools. Talk to teachers.
Learn about the candidates.
Share your feelings and thoughts in public and on social media. Vote.
Get your friends and family to vote. Volunteer to help e3.
BESD Candidate Survey Statements (These 12 statements were sent to all 7 candidates for the Brawley Elementary School District Board election, asking them to indicate if they strongly disagreed, disagreed, had no opinion, agreed, or strongly agreed with each statement. Sent to Candidates on the afternoon of Sunday, October 18th)
1. I believe that 21st century skills including computer coding should be welcomed and available at BESD, and are accessible for students as courses for free or low cost via internet classes.
- I believe that early access to and immersion in bilingual language education provides a competitive advantage and valuable skills for students in the future.
- I believe that a great board member actively strives for input, discussion, and guidance primarily with students, parents, and teachers. The administration and superintendent also have a role.
- I believe that the highest priority for BESD is to ensure that all students are literate, and should should spare no expense in ensuring that students are able to read.
- I believe that as a school district, BESD has a responsibility to ensure that all students are able to read at grade level.
- I believe that I as a candidate possess the ability to say “No.” to proposals that would deprive students of opportunity or be wasteful of school funds.
- I support the practice of prioritized budgeting where non-essential items to the direct education of a student are second to tangible academic opportunites.
- I believe a school culture of apathy and low expectations is harmful to students.
- I believe a superintendent should solicit and encourage the sharing of all points of view, ideas, and creative solutions.
- I believe that transparency is not just a buzzword, it should be the way our schools conduct themselves. No student, parent, or teacher should be denied or have access delayed to public information. Providing the public public information without revision or delay is the responsibility of the school.
- I believe that the superintendent serves the Board, not the other way around.
- As a socioeconomically disadvantaged area, BUHS has a moral obligation to provide education and opportunities that are not currently offered.