Rowland Unified teachers demand search for new superintendent

By Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo

Eleven months after filling the superintendent’s position with its business manager, the issue of who is going to lead the Rowland Unified School District continues to make waves.

On Thursday, the Association of Rowland Educators, the local chapter of the California Teachers Association representing about 700 members, demanded the board open up a search committee to look for a new superintendent.

The position comes after a survey conducted by the teachers union in December revealed a lack of trust and respect for Superintendent Ruben Frutos.

About 68 percent of the respondents answered no to the question, “Would you like to see Mr. Frutos continue as superintendent of RUSD,” according to an email blast sent by the union obtained by this newspaper. Only 4 percent responded yes, and 28 percent said: “I don’t know/care.”

Nearly 50 percent of the teachers — about 334 people — responded to the survey, one of the highest response rates in the history of the union, said ARE President John Petersen.

Many of the respondents took the time to write written responses, of which the overwhelming majority were negative, he said.

“Ninety percent of them were leadership-related and had to do with their perception of how the district is run,” Petersen said.

He declined to release the survey or its comments in its entirety to the public. He said CTA legal staff advised the union not to expose themselves to a defamation lawsuit.

“In my opinion, he has had nine months to prove he is the right guy for the job. We haven’t seen any evidence he has been able to convince the teachers of that,” he added.

Frutos did not return two phone calls over two days and did not respond.

The ARE will present its position at the board meeting on Tuesday. The email said they have learned the board will put Frutos’ contract extension on either Tuesday’s board agenda or take it up March 4.

The agenda is drawn up by Board President Heidi Gallegos and Frutos, said board member Angelena Pride. Gallegos also did not return phone calls. Gallegos was the only board member to vote against the Frutos appointment.

Pride and Lynne Ebenkamp, both elected to the board in November, did not know if the superintendent’s contract was coming up for a vote. His contract expires June 30.

“I don’t know what’s on the agenda,” said Ebenkamp on Tuesday When asked about the teachers’ union demand to begin searching for a new superintendent. She said: “I can’t say I’m surprised. I am surprised they are doing it right now.”

Pride had a similar reaction on Tuesday. She said the ARE survey results were mailed to each board member and she looked them over. “Part of me was surprised by some of those results,” she said.

As to whether she supports searching for a new superintendent or extending the contract of the current one, Pride wouldn’t say. “The only decision I’ve made is whatever the process is that determines the outcome of his contract, it would be transparent.”

One Chu, president of the Rowland Parents and Educators Association, a community group, said his group supports the call for a search. He said Bassett Unified School District began a search for a deputy superintendent and attracted 45 candidates. “They have the normal, transparent process,” Chu said.

The superintendent issue may be spilling over into the negotiations between the district and the union over teacher salaries and benefits.

According to Rowland’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Douglas Staine, the average hourly rate for the district’s teachers is $63.83 and the average daily rate is $382.95. The average benefit contribution is an additional $8,730 per teacher.

In the email, the ARE says it is not happy with the progress of the talks. The district has reserves of at least $50 million and will be receiving more money if the governor’s budget is approved, Petersen said.

The Rowland Unified School District approved a $132.5 million budget on June 25. The budget projects an $8 million deficit that will be covered by the district’s $52 million balance going into the next school year.

“The district doesn’t want to increase class size or cut more programs,” Superintendent Ruben Frutos explained in an earlier interview. “So the school board decided to use some of our reserves.”

Frutos expects the district to receive $2 million more from the state.

“We will also use other cost cutting measures over the next year to cut the deficit down,” the top administrator said at the time.

Last year’s adopted budget anticipated a $20 million deficit, but actual figures show that deficit shrank to only $2 million. Revenue actually increased $4.5 million than expected, while expenditures were $14 million less than budgeted.

“The cost of our proposal is less than the new revenue they are getting,” Petersen said.

He cited a school district in Rosemead in which the teachers received a 6.4 percent raise and one in Ontario where the teachers received a 5 percent raise this year and next year.

The RUSD teachers want salary levels and benefits to reach the median of those in Los Angeles County. “Right now we are below the median,” Petersen said. He declined to be specific.

RUSD operates 19 schools in Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Puente, Industry and West Covina — with 15,000 students.

Staff Writer Richard Irwin contributed to this story

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