Modesto City Schools Trustees keep it friendly

No visible tension at meeting despite Marks' reprimand

October 5, 2009 

Modesto City Schools trustees ignored any sore feelings over a reprimand sent to Trustee Cindy Marks last week and focused on other business at their board meeting Monday night.

That letter, sent by Board President Steve Grenbeaux, didn't come up in public. In it, Grenbeaux chided Marks for subverting district guidelines that direct trustees to communicate with school employees through Superintendent Arturo Flores. She could face a formal censure if her colleagues press the matter further.

Marks didn't show a sign that the letter was on her mind. She sat next to Trustee Gary Lopez, who has pushed to have Marks censured because of e-mails she sent to former Deputy Superintendent Debbe Bailey.

There was no noticeable tension between the two Monday. Marks said she hasn't talked to Lopez about the letter, and she said they are professional enough to work together as board members.

Politics aside, trustees advanced a proposal to form a blue-ribbon committee of "civic and community leaders to review the current status of the district's operations," though they did not cement a plan for the group.

Flores said he would gather examples of such committees at other districts and bring that information back to trustees.

Trustee Kim Spina requested such a group at the board's last meeting to study issues that have popped up during election season.

Four trustees are up for re-election, including Marks, against five challengers. Spina said she wants the committee to make recommendations to improve the district.

Trustees were uncertain about what the committee's focus should be or whether it would represent a worthwhile use of time.

"The committee can't be just for show. It needs to have goals and we must listen to what they say," Grenbeaux said.

Critics say the committee has little merit beyond a superficial level.

The district has started a budget advisory committee, so some trustees suggested the blue-ribbon panel could examine other topics, such as high school extracurricular programs. Others worried about overburdening staff with the responsibilities of helping a committee.

In other business, trustees discussed goals for Flores and his deputy and associate superintendents in a closed-door session. They returned to the closed-door meeting after the open session adjourned at 9:15 p.m. to finish their talks.

Grenbeaux said he didn't know if trustees would finalize the goals Monday or continue their talks at a later meeting. He said the talks were not focused on job evaluations.

"It's just goals, and they're identical to last year's (goals)," he said.

The district heard a report showing that its enrollment losses have slowed. It has 90 students more than it initially projected, totaling 29,262, excluding alternative and special education students.

Total enrollment came in at 30,581 students, 319 students fewer than last school year. Last year, enrollment dropped 684 students compared with the previous year.

Those numbers are important because school districts are funded primarily through average daily student attendance.

Also Monday, trustees recognized Jim Petersen, head custodian at Rose Avenue Elementary, for being named Member of the Year for maintenance and operations by the California State Employees Association. Petersen was chosen out of CSEA's 220,000 members for the honor. He's maintained Rose Avenue's facilities and grounds for 25 years.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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