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Stockton Unified school board approves eliminating 3 positions despite student opposition

Students who were opposed to the elimination of the positions say they plan on meeting with school district officials.

STOCKTON, Calif. — During a contentious four and a half-hour Stockton Unified School District Board meeting Tuesday, trustees voted four to one to eliminate three positions despite public opposition from students and staff members. 

The agenda item eliminated the positions of Child Welfare and Attendance Administrator, Native American Specialist and a Teacher on Special Assignment role in the district's ethnic studies program. The positions will be eliminated at the end of the school year. 

According to the agenda item passed by the board, the positions were recommended to be eliminated due to "changes to categorical and general program funding." 

Nancy Lane, the district's assistant superintendent of Human Resources, made the recommendation which was approved by Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. and brought to the board of trustees Tuesday night for a vote. 

In the days leading up to the vote, students and staff members expressed opposition to the agenda item with some students calling for the item to be reclassified from an action item to a discussion item. 

"We're losing some key positions that students are really supportive of. They're pretty popular positions," said David Sengthay, a senior at Stockton Unified's Stockton Early College Academy. "Not only students, I think teachers and parents and other staff members who work closely with these positions are going to feel that."

Sengthay organized a community campaign ahead of the board meeting, offering other students a way to send emails in opposition to district officials and to sign up to speak at the meeting.

"I'm definitely disappointed, but I'm not at all surprised given the board's track record with some major decisions they made," Sengthay said. "I saw a lot of people speak out online saying, 'Wow, we sent in so many comments, both online and on Zoom, and they still didn't listen to us.'"

The sole "no" vote to the agenda item came from trustee AngelAnn Flores. Trustees Alicia Rico and Maria Mendez abstained from voting.

In a public comment during the meeting, Flores called the move to eliminate the ethnic studies position rash and described it as "a spit in the face".

"We have done a good job. We are ahead of the curve, but we are still not there because we still have to include (ethnic studies) and build a curriculum for our elementary so I feel a little contraction in cutting this," Flores said. "It just doesn't make sense right now to remove it in the middle of the work being done."

Sengthay says he now plans on holding a meeting between fellow students and district officials to discuss the possibility of a permanent position for a district-level teacher in the ethnic studies program.

"If they can't meet us halfway there, we're going to keep organizing further." Sengthay said, adding that students might hold a rally depending on how talks with district officials go.

Sengthay and Flores were not the only ones against the proposal. The Stockton Teacher's Association, which represents the ethnic studies position being eliminated, said they believe the move to eliminate the teacher on special assignment in the ethnic studies program is premature. 

"With a new curriculum developing, we can't just set it up and step away. We need to nurture that program," union president Felice Bryson-Perez said. "I believe the position is important, and it has a place of longer longevity than two years."

The special teacher on assignment position was created for the district's ethnic studies department in 2020 and approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees at the time.

The Stockton Unified School District issued a statement saying the position for teachers in the ethnic studies program was created to review and rollout the ethnic studies program's curriculum and staff development.

"The District's stance is that ethnic studies be embedded into our curricular framework; and our teacher on special assignment has accomplished this goal," the school district wrote in a statement. "The teacher on special assignment will return to their previous teaching position." 

The school district says that while the position of Native American Specialist will also be eliminated, they are in the process of recruiting for a new Native American Center coordinator role.

On the elimination of the Child Welfare and Attendance Administrator position, the school district says that the Child Welfare and Attendance Department has added new positions as part of a restructuring process made possible by an increase of one-time money. 

Due to board policies, only 20 minutes of public comments were heard on the agenda item. The board's discussion before voting to approve the proposal lasted 22 minutes.

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