By Trina Bernal
You walk into the Benicia Unified School District conference room where people with blue shirts are walking around with “Promoting the Teacher Profession and Quality Education” on their backs. You wonder who, what, and why? Teachers wore blue shirts, striving for their perceived better treatment as educators. The whole board meeting on Thursday, April 19, provided an open public platform for all citizens to speak up in front of the school board and their community, as the night wounded on with various speakers bringing up various issues surrounding the small town of Benicia. But this night was particularly unique, as it revolved around the alleged lack of respect towards teachers, and a “lack of transparency,” as Benicia Middle School teacher, Mrs. Fields, said to the board and the employees. In particular, there was an emphasis on the well-known annual fight for teacher’s pay raise. There were six board members in total, announced by Executive Secretary Betty Jensen; Superintendent Dr. Young, President Dianne Ferrucci, Trustee Stacy Holguin, Trustee Celeste Monnette, Trustee Peter Morgan, and Trustee Gary Wing.
The board meeting ran like a particularly high stakes club meeting at BHS, first laying out the overall agenda. Keep in mind you are taking up the hours of civilians who came for, A) good community involvement, B) school extra credit, or C) a teacher trying to raise their money wages.
The first order of business was ‘Motion to approve for Closed Session’ which happened an hour prior to the 7pm open session board meeting. As one of the board members said it means “to uphold the recommendation of the committee” or rather to keep everything discussed during Closed Session as Confidential Agenda Items, such as employment and student matter discussion. Closed session means a confidential meeting basically. A chorus of “Aye’s” was heard from all board members there. Followed by a brief Pledge of Allegiance afterwards.
Second came ‘Highlights’, which included the board members’ attendance at local events. For instance, Board Trustee Stacy Holguin went up in front of fellow citizens with a speech at the student-led March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, which caught our quaint city’s attention, due to the relative rare occurrence of student involvement in public policy. March for Our Lives is a national movement protesting against gun violence.
The main event of ‘Highlights’, however, were the BHS Freshmen that participated in the following event, Odyssey of the Mind. The Odyssey of the Mind(OM) is a competition that requires creativity and has two components: a long-term that takes five months preparation, and spontaneous problem which can vary from verbal, hands-on, and verbal hands-on. Unlike long-term, the spontaneous event has a time limit of six minutes to complete. Five new problems are annually assigned and are usually engineering-based, one of the OM members said. They won Regionals, but moved to State with 8th place. After presenting their life-sized board game made of balsa wood, a member thanked the community for their “financial and moral support” for getting them to Regionals.
The third thing on the Board’s agenda was ‘Student Report’. ASB Public Relations Commissioners Dahlia Elgonemy (11) and Ashlynn Smith (11) presented what has happened and will happen in BHS. Some of the most noteworthy were the first cultural diversity week, April 9-13, and Teacher’s Appreciation Week for the first week of May. Two Liberty High students represented their school, and touched on events like the mock interview and the Earth Day cleanup,which Liberty High partook in.
Dr. Charles Young briefly touched on the Leadership Academy that took place Monday, April 9th, where 30 members graduated and received a certificate from Superintendent Young and Asst. Superintendent Gill. Some topics covered were “Leadership”, “Public Relations”, “Hiring and Retaining Staff”, “School Finance (LCFF)”, “the LCAP”, and “Curriculum of Assessments”. Young addressed the walk-out and said our high school principal, Mrs. Kleinschmidt, wrote a well-written and intricate letter to students and staff.
The next bullet-point on the board’s agenda was, ‘Comments from members of the public’. This was the point at which tension rose. Board members were given issues ranging from personal–such as a concerned parent regarding financial matters, to important, a high-schooler like Liam Madigan (11) with a loud voice advocating for teachers’ raise.
Brave and concerned students spoke up at the event and called the board to action to increase teachers’ wages. Madigan (11) said that we wouldn’t be able to get to the college we wanted nor be able to “put students first if we put teachers last”. BHS English department chair, Lisa Honeycutt, later said during the meeting that if necessary, teachers can revoke services otherwise taken for granted, like AP review sessions, tutoring, classroom access for club meetings, etc.
Mrs. Fields, the BTA President, got 90% of the district teachers , or 204 units, to sign a letter. Among other things, this letter detailed the notion that teachers are not receiving their deserved pay and deserved respect. Nor does the district authority kept consistent with their cooperative standing with their employees. Fields claims her and the teachers haven’t been treated equitably, “We no longer feel we are given the respect and support to achieve our goals”. Fields also added from the letter that teachers’ annual negotiations battles have been “demoralizing”. The board, according to Fields, is not cooperating with teachers and employees to their satisfaction.
Overall, the meeting served its designed purpose: it opened up the public’s eyes to the current happenings in the Benicia school system, school wide events, and the involvement of the board members in those events.