Round 3: The RDUSD Speaks

Rich Peters
April 27, 2016

River News-Herald

There has been a lot of talk surrounding The River Delta Unified School District over the past months. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on concerning the many issues that have taken place, there is one very important message that I hope I have conveyed in my articles. The three Riverview teachers that are being reassigned are educators, coaches, friends and family to people throughout our unique Delta community. They have created a legacy and left their mark on the minds of our children for years. They have donated hours of their own time with the aspirations of bettering the lives of others and I hope that we can all appreciate and thank them for their dedication.

With that said, times are rapidly progressing, our community is already far behind in education and it is clear to me that changes do in fact need to be made within the district – but it’s whether or not these were the right changes that I am unsure of. The RDUSD is lacking in many aspects that most schools in surrounding areas couldn’t even imagine. Our school’s funding is limited and there is only so much that can be done with shallow pockets, which is something that has led me to question the decision making and thought process behind things that have and have not taken place in the district for the nearly two decades that I have been in and around it.

After writing two articles, the first bringing the sudden reassignment of the teachers to the public’s attention and the second following up with more information and responding to some backlash that I received, RDUSD Superintendent Don Beno cordially invited me to meet with him at the district office. We sat down for an hour or so and discussed just what exactly is going on within his school district.

First off, regarding the reassignment of Steve Camacho, Gwen Douglas and Bruce Vieira, he wanted to reassure me that they were all offered jobs within the district and are highly valued. “I don’t want the teachers to leave the district,” Beno explained. “They are all of great value to the district and I value their services.”

But Beno also made it very clear to me that those teachers should not have been surprised by their reassignments. In his three years as the RDUSD Superintendent, he has expressed his desire for all middle school students to be STEM prepared for high school and have the ability to master Algebra in middle school.

Here is a statement that Mr. Beno released to me:
“First, I would like to state from the outset that the difficult decision to reassign three teachers from Riverview Middle School was only made after careful consideration of several factors.  First, we have examined the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and its impact on the students in our district.  I have visited every school several times since we have implemented the CCSS.  I am very impressed with the quality of instruction that I see in our district.  As I focus on the elementary school math instruction, I see students that are more prepared to think mathematically and more prepared to tackle difficult math concepts.

I sincerely believe that within the next few years, as many as 50% of our students will enter middle school prepared to master the content taught in Algebra.  Therefore, we must develop a course of study at the middle school level that will move half of the students through Algebra.  As a former middle school principal for five years, we were able to increase the number of students learning high algebra from 2 students to 125 each year, which was 50% of our student population.  I am confident that 50% of our middle school students will enter middle school prepared to complete algebra by the end of 8th grade.
Although there were sentiments that we “pushed out three teachers”, the fact is that we have reassigned three teachers in order to build a schedule that can accommodate the needs of our students.  It is strictly a matter of credentialing and has no bearing on the quality of the teachers who were reassigned.  In fact, positions for each of these teachers were available right here in Rio Vista. We had three positions at DH White School as well as positions at other elementary schools within the district.  Each teacher was offered their choice of several open positions within the district.  Two of the teachers have chosen to accept positions in Rio Vista and one has chosen to work in Walnut Grove.”

However, during the most recent school board meeting held on the evening of April 12, former district principal Dan Mahoney brought up several more issues. “Your decision to move the multiple subject credential teachers from Riverview is having major long term effects on the school,” Mahoney stated. “When the Multiple Subject teachers started looking at the difference in salaries in different districts, they found a wage difference of between 20-25,000 dollars per year. That word is now spreading and hitting other staff members. The Sacramento Business Journal ranks the River Delta Unified School District 50th out of 50 school districts (in teacher salaries) in the Sacramento area. I am getting reference calls on many teachers and I have written nine letters of recommendation to date.”

Mr. Mahoney later went on to say, “Once again this bleeds into the overall concern I have with the lack of equitable Rio Vista representation on this dais,” and that they have been told before that there is “a need to redistrict Board of Trustees areas.”

Digging back into the information that Superintendent Beno shared with me in regard to the Trustee Board Member areas, he states that:
“The laws that govern the Trustee Areas are very specific and clear.  The provisions are outlined in the California Education Code.  The Code specifies that the Board shall review the boundaries of each Trustee area following a federal census.  Therefore, by Education Code, after the 2020 census, the Board of Trustees shall use the census data to review and adjust the boundaries of each area to comply with the specific provisions in the Ed Code.

It is relevant to note that the population of the entire Trustee area is to be included in the data to determine the Trustee area.  Therefore, the population of each area must include the city or town limits as well as those people living in unincorporated areas in the boundaries of the Trustee Area.”

During our meeting, Superintendent Beno spoke highly of his Board Members. “I am very proud of the board. The board considers what’s best for the entire district; they are wonderful to work with. They have never looked at themselves as anything other than a whole district.”

The board looking at themselves as a whole and voting on what’s in the entire district’s best interest is something that Mr. Mahoney and others have disputed numerous times. With just two representatives in Rio Vista, it would appear that those board members would be out numbered and eventually outvoted, but Beno assured me that in his tenure as the Superintendent he has not seen a 5-2 vote against the Rio Vista board.

As we move forward and the school year comes to an end it is clear to me after speaking with Superintendent Beno that more changes will be made. He shared his thoughts and his vision of the future of the district and he made a lot of valid points. His intentions are good and he truly believes that he is making the right moves for everyone – and maybe he is. However, the right move on paper is not always the right move in real life and ruffling the feathers of his already underpaid teachers in a small, tight-nit community such as this one is a curiously bold move to say the least.

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