FUGITIVE SURRENDERS to MCSO at Ukiah hotel after a stand-off with the Mendocino County Sheriff's. —
After a two-day search, authorities on Wednesday arrested Walter Kristopher Miller, 42, of Ukiah, who allegedly shot at a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy during a high-speed chase south of Ukiah Monday night. The Best Western hotel on Orchard Avenue was under surveillance for several hours after the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office got a tip around noon that Miller was at the hotel, Sheriff Tom Allman said Wednesday evening. The Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force confirmed at about 2:15pm that Miller was at the hotel, according to Allman. Detectives got a search warrant for his room, a SWAT team was deployed and agents spoke to him on the room's phone, according to Allman. “We entered negotiations, and he made a request, and said he would give himself up when his parole officer from Sonoma County arrived on scene,” Allman said Wednesday night. He said it wasn't known Wednesday night whether Miller was armed inside the hotel room. Two MCSO negotiators were seen entering and leaving the scene throughout the afternoon and evening, and shortly after 5pm, Miller agreed to surrender when his parole agent arrived, Allman said. At 6:11pm, two state parole agents from Sonoma County arrived. “Within five minutes after they arrived, he came out of his room with his hands up,” Allman said. At 6:27pm, Miller was walked out to a sheriff's patrol car in handcuffs without a struggle. Allman drove him to the Mendocino County Jail, where he was to be booked possibly under a no-bail hold on suspicion of attempted murder, felony evading, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm in the Monday night shooting. Miller had been sought for two days after he allegedly fired five or six rounds from what authorities believe was an AP9 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 30-round magazine from the passenger window of a 1995 Thunderbird. The driver, Christopher Skaggs, 30, of Redwood Valley, was arrested in Ukiah Tuesday morning. Orchard Avenue was closed around 3pm Wednesday between Gobbi Street and Kings Court, and some area businesses were evacuated or closed while SWAT agents stood at the hotel's doors on all sides of the building and a California Highway Patrol helicopter circled overhead. People were standing around on the blocked street and near the temporarily closed-off businesses, snapping pictures with their camera phones and watching as agents came and went. “The SWAT team rolled in like Hollywood,” said Cole Cupples of Cupples Construction at the site of the new Ukiah Unified School District building going up on Orchard Avenue. He estimated that the agents arrived at about 3:15pm. Allman said the construction workers weren't evacuated, but were asked to come down from the roof where they were working. Nick Patel, who owns the Best Western on Orchard Avenue, waited and worried for hours outside because his son, who manages the hotel, was inside. Hotel guest Eric Moul of Sacramento said a “very polite” agent wearing a bullet-proof vest knocked on his door at about 4:20pm and told him to leave his room “just as a precaution.” He walked outside holding a paperback novel and waited with other bystanders in the parking lot. “They said a guy with a gun on the second floor was threatening to take a pot shot at someone,” Moul said. Allman said other businesses in the area, including a daycare, the post office and the Social Security office, were asked to keep employees inside. Authorities contacted the businesses at about 5pm, when Orchard Avenue was reopened to traffic, to tell them how to leave the area, Allman said. At about 4:29pm, a woman whose identity wasn't released was seen walking out of the hotel in handcuffs and was taken away in a patrol car. Allman said she was an acquaintance of Miller's who was questioned and later released, but was not arrested on charges.
The shooting incident started when a sheriff's deputy stopped the T-bird Skaggs was driving at 9:49pm Monday for having expired registration tags in the 1200 block of South State Street, south of Washington Avenue, in Ukiah. Skaggs allegedly sped away south just as the deputy walked up to the driver's window. In the ensuing chase, Skaggs drove between 80 and 90 miles per hour until he slowed to between 50 and 60 miles per hour on Highway 253, the MCSO reported previously. The car swerved repeatedly into the oncoming lane on blind curves. Miller allegedly leaned out the passenger's-side window in the 900 block of Highway 253 and shot at the pursuing deputy several times from a distance of about 35 feet, stopping when the gun jammed, according to Allman. One of the bullets hit the patrol car's radiator and disabled it. Deputies from throughout Mendocino County responded to look for the car, along with the California Highway Patrol, Ukiah Police Department, Cloverdale Police Department and Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. The T-bird was found abandoned in a driveway leading to a home in the 6000 block of Highway 253, according to the MCSO, and inside were items reported stolen from a Van Arsdale Road home in Potter Valley earlier the same evening. Among the stolen items but not in the abandoned car were five guns, including three handguns, a rifle and a shotgun, Allman said previously. Authorities also found ammunition in the T-bird. “There are still outstanding stolen guns from Monday,” Allman said Wednesday night. The hotel room was being searched Wednesday night, and information about what was inside was expected to be released today. Skaggs was also wanted in an unrelated burglary and robbery incident reported to the Sheriff's Office Feb. 19, and was out on bail for an unrelated Nov. 14 incident in which the California Highway Patrol arrested him on suspicion of felony evading. He was booked at the Mendocino County Jail on suspicion of attempted murder, felony evading, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and held under $300,000 bail. (— Tiffany Revelle. Courtesy, The Ukiah Daily Journal)
COAST HOSPITAL'S board of directors was meeting yesterday (Thursday) at 5pm before a room full of employees angry that the County's only publicly-owned hospital appears to be trying to make up its budget deficit by laying off workers. More on this one to come.
JEFF COSTELLO OBSERVES:
TWO SIDES OF GUN PROPAGANDA
Two emails came in this morning, forwarded material from people trying to “spread the word.” The topic of both was guns, one rabidly pro andone timidly con. This is perfectly predictable and typical. The pro-gun people are always rabid and excitable, bringing to mind the phrase “itchy trigger finger.” The anti-gunners usually liberal and outwardly mild-mannered.
The pro-gun message praised strident libertarian Alex Jones's “explosive” appearance on the Piers Morgan show and even provided the video. I watched it and the only thing that exploded was Jones himself, who embodies every crackpot right-wing belief and reminds me of the Christian auto mechanic who told me in 1993 that the U.N. was at that moment amassing troops and tanks to roll down America's streets and take everyone's guns away, house by house. But the mechanic at least spoke in a normal tone of voice, which may or may not be scarier than Jones's angry, shouted diatribes.
The email goes on to provideso-called proof that historical dictatorships have consistently disarmed their populations, thus ensuring little or no resistance to the dictator. Hitler of course being the prime example. The message, naturally, is arm yourself, trust no one, lock the door, watch for the government storm troopers and tanks on your street, and start firing.
This is to say nothing of strangers, unfamiliar people in the neighborhood. Shoot first. They might be armed. The sacred mantra here is “protect your family.” Self-protection. We all need protection, don't we? From who? Fanatics with guns, of course. Bad guys, as the NRA says. Who are the bad guys? Pretty much anyone who's “not like me,” that's who. If we think about it, that's a good portion of the whole right wing patriotic/Christian philosophy: Not like me = bad.
Now to the liberals. This one is a petition to entreat legislators to vote for stricter gun laws, in the belief that more severe legal limits on firearms might reduce the number of insane mass killings in malls, theaters, and schools. As if this will prevent anyone who wants a gun from getting one. Ah, liberals. Never mind, let's go to a wine tasting.
Do such people understand that drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and even marijuana in most states are illegal? So by golly, how do people get them? Because there sure are an awful lot of people using them. Are they the bad guys, as opposed to law-abiding good guys who get their drugs with a doctor's prescription? Haven't we learned yet that legality and morality have nothing in common?
So the liberals hope that “they” (the authorities) will nip around the edges of the gun issue and take a little of the edge off, while the far right (that's all of it now), would prefer to just blow up the white house with the black family in it, and both houses of congress. Oddly, not the pentagon, though. But they can't touch any of it. Why? Because “they,” the authority structure, have more and bigger guns and bombs than all the Idaho bunker people, neo-nazis, gun show groupies and paranoids and patriots of every stripe could ever dream of.
It's a hell of game some choose to play.
A READER WRITES:
Did you guys know that April is National Government Month?!? Please find appropriate ways to help us celebrate. Also, note the enclosed communication from Carmel Angelo. Two sentence (fragments) are particularly noteworthy. One says she is happy to be “helping to grow our community” and the other says “with a more informed public we can grow this feedback…” I assume this is the new government buzzword lingo. Use it often.
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ENCLOSED: Dear Mendocino County Employees:
CEO “ALL EMPLOYEE MESSAGE” — February 2013
Greetings: One of my New Year’s Resolutions to you is to commit to monthly messages sharing items of interest with you. It has been a busy first couple of months of the year 2013 so far, and the Executive Office is deeply engaged in a number of high-priority items, not the least of which is the development of the County budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1. Also quite important is the distribution of the soon-to-be-released County Communication Plan; this will be quite important for us as an organization to shape our communication strategies going forward. I’m excited to launch a more personal and timely mechanism for delivering County information and receiving feedback from all of you. More information on this initiative is forthcoming.
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that April is National County Government Month, an annual opportunity to showcase local government services. This is an appropriate reminder for me of how important our role is in the community, and to serve the public as best we can. County government is one of the most closely watched and impactful levels of government there is. It is an opportunity to prove to citizens whether or not elected – and appointed – officials truly are responsive to the residents they serve. A robust discussion is at the heart of our local democracy, and I am encouraged every time a local citizen chooses to engage in the political discussion in an open forum. It is a reminder to myself of how critical it is to deliver excellent services to Mendocino County. Please take a moment to recognize, along with me, the role you play in helping to grow our community. In addition, I welcome any highlights you have that you would like to share, or even to acknowledge an instance of “above and beyond” service that one of our employees has displayed.
Finally, the Executive Office is planning to embark on a number of budget presentations in the coming months in an effort to foster a more educational relationship with County employees and residents. It is my hope that with a more informed public, we can grow this feedback mechanism and share this critical knowledge with our Supervisors and our County leadership.
Thank you for your continued commitment,
Carmel (County CEO Carmel Angelo)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in Budget Debate
By Dave Lindorff
All the sturm and drang in Washington over the March 1 deadline for a budget deal is an act. Two acts really. The Republicans are pretending that if we don't have budget cuts this year, the whole US economy will collapse because of the nation's enormous indebtedness. The Democrats are pretending that if no deal is reached, and automatic across-the-board cuts of 8% for the Pentagon and 5 percent for other programs will not only put the nation's defense at risk and cause widespread suffering, but that it will derail the nation's fragile economic "recovery." Both claims are, to put it gently, bullshit. To put it in perspective, remember we¹re talking about $86 billion in spending for this current year. That's in a federal budget of $3.5 trillion, and a national economy of $16 trillion. A little math is in order. One trillion dollars is $1000 billion. So $86 billion represents just 2.46% of the federal budget. And it represents just 0.5% of GDP. To put that in context another way, in December Congress, with little discussion or fanfare, allowed federal funding for emergency unemployment benefits to expire. That sucked $30 billion out of the economy this year, taking it all from people who are jobless and desperate. At the same time, it ended the temporary 2% cut in the FICA payroll tax for Social Security. That sucked another $115 billon out of all workers' pockets. So a total of $145 billion was removed from the economy without any concern at all being expressed about the impact that hit would have on the economy and we're talking about an amount that's nearly twice as much as the cut from so-called sequestration. We could also talk about the over $400 billion in stimulus spending that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress pumped into the economy in 2009. It clearly was an amount far too small to kickstart the economy out of the depression it had by then fallen into. Now if $400 billion was too small to accomplish much in 2009, how bad is taking out $85 billion in 2013? Answer: it's not such a big deal. I think what's going on here is a much more complicated dance. The Republicans want a cut in spending, not because they think it will make any difference in the nation's $16 trillion national debt, but so they can go back to their states in the next election cycle and claim that they finally "tamed the beast" of federal spending. Of course, they won't have done any such thing even if they get that whole $86 billion cut. The budget was slated to grow by about $80 billion anyhow, so it¹s likely imbedded growth in federal spending will in the end top the amount of the sequestration cut — especially if the US gets involved in another war in Syria or somewhere in Africa, or if there's a crisis in Korea or some other part of Asia. As for the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress, what they secretly want is cover to start cutting Social Security and especially Medicare. Since those two programs were exempted from sequestration cuts, their strategy is to cry "wolf" about the impact of sequestration in order to bully Republicans into some kind of budget-cutting deal that would have Republicans agree to a rise in taxes in some truly minor way on the rich, while in return Democrats would "grudgingly agree" to cuts in Medicare and maybe even Social Security. They will then be able to claim, to their progressive Democratic base, that the Republicans "made us do it." The way I see it, the answer to this subterfuge in Washington is to demand that sequestration be allowed to happen. For the first time in modern history, we would actually see America's war machine take a hit. While an 8% cut in Pentagon spending would hardly be noticed by the generals, it would expose the long-running lie that the country's security depends upon ever greater spending on war and preparing for war — a lie that now has the US spending more on war than the rest of the world combined. Assuming that the Pentagon might lose some half of that $86 billion‹say $43 billion for the sake of argument — that's just 10% of the cost of the military's $400-billion F-35 flying boondoggle, a fighter plane that already costs $166 million per unit, that is in production despite a schedule that won't have it finished with flight testing until 2019, and that has flaws so great that it probably will never be able to fly an actual combat mission. Still, as pathetic as that $86 billion cut would be, allowing sequestration to happen would at least protect Social Security and Medicare from the knife, forcing the Obama administration to keep its hands off those programs, at least for this year. The New York Times reported Thursday in a page one lead story that Republicans have surprised the White House by calling its bluff and saying, okay, go ahead and let the Pentagon budget get cut. Obama and the Democrats had hoped that by including the Pentagon in the sequestration cuts, they'd scare Republicans from holding the budget hostage. They were wrong. Now the public should join in and say, let's have all the cuts! We can deal with the aftershocks later. If teachers start to get laid off, the public can, and will, demand emergency funding to restore their jobs. If bridges start to fall, the public can demand transportation funding to repair them. Let's restore funding in a positive way after the cuts by demanding it as the needs make themselves apparent. It will be interesting to see how the War Department will demonstrate that it has to get its cut funds back. Nobody is going to see any greater threat to the US when the Pentagon loses $43 billion for the year. There won't suddenly be an attack on the country. China won't suddenly feel that it can bully the US Pacific fleet. Soldiers in Afghanistan won't find they don't have any fuel or ammo. The lights won't be turned off at the Pentagon. Besides, if they want to make up for the lost revenue, they can just have the senior brass take a pay cut. Or they could walk out of Afghanistan early, which right there would save $88.5 billion, or more than the entire amount being sequestered from all departments. Now there's an idea.
WE'RE POSTING a lengthy account of a Boonville school board meeting held Monday night because so many communities in Mendocino County and throughout the country endure similar controversies.
Tomlin Out! Turmoil Roils The Valley
by Bruce Anderson
A 3-2 majority of Anderson Valley school trustees, meeting in closed session a week ago, had informally stated their intention not to renew the contract of Boonville high school principal, James Tomlin.
Monday night, before a large crowd in the high school cafeteria that was so large it spilled out the door, the 3-2 board majority held: Tomlin's contract will not be renewed.
Erica Lemons, Yadira Mendoza and Ben Anderson voted not to re-hire the high school principal. Board president Martha Bradford and appointed trustee Dick Browning voted to retain him.
That first closed session board where Tomlin's contract was discussed was supposed to have been confidential. But his close friend and ally, Superintendent Collins, sits in all closed sessions although he is not an elected person. The trustees are never allowed to meet solely as elected officials. The person they allegedly supervise, Superintendent Collins, is always sitting with them. He is, in theory, retired, but still works part-time for big money and benefits. Collins and board president Martha Bradford have, over the years, stuffed the board with Yes votes for whatever Collins and a core of long-time teachers want to do. (Trustee Browning, a retired school administrator, is appointed and he faithfully votes the party line, as he did Monday night.) This nexus of entrenched, and entirely self-interested power definitely wanted Tomlin to remain in place.
The shock of the 3-2 vote to fire Tomlin ricocheted around the Anderson Valley Tuesday morning. It's been the Lillipution equivalent of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
The high school staff's mobilization for their boss prompted Monday's night's showdown meeting of the school board.
But the Tomlin bloc seems to have underestimated their support.
Apart from a predictable cadre of high school teachers, no parents who are not school employees, spoke for Tomlin's retention, and several of the parents who did speak either denounced him and the high school faculty or suggested that they thought a change in the school's leadership would be a good thing.
As a packed house looked on, Monday night's meeting began with board chair Martha Bradford briskly instructing the audience that persons wishing to speak should sign up and she would call on them to deliver remarks limited to three minutes. The long-time trustee cautioned the packed room to behave themselves, and said the district's legal counsel had advised her and Superintendent Collins — the only persons who talk with that distant personage — that following public comment the board would retreat into closed session to vote up or down on Tomlin.
After an hour of public comment, the board duly withdrew to closed session and, 90 minutes later, re-appeared to announce that they had formally voted not to renew Tomlin's contract. The news was received with subdued shock by the many people who'd remained in the room for the verdict. There were quiet smiles from some, gasps of disbelief from long-time high school teachers.
The fallout from what amounts to revolutionary change in the managing apparatus of the school district is likely to be considerable but can't yet be predicted.
Tomlin himself was the first speaker. A tall, trim, youthful-looking man, Tomlin said he would gladly return to the classroom if that was the decision of the board. He said he was “shocked and puzzled” at this turn of events because of the school's many accomplishments. Tomlin said he was proud of the discipline policy he'd written and that there were in fact fewer disciplinary referrals than there had ever been. He defended his handling of a controversial discipline matter from the previous year and declared that Anderson Valley High School “was in the top two-and-a-half percent of high schools in the United States,” a bold assertion, versions of which were also made by several of the teachers who spoke.
However, according to the California State Department of Education's 2011-12 “School Quality Snapshot,” Anderson Valley Unified did not meet any the state's academic targets. More significantly, the percentage of 2011 graduates meeting the University of California's basic “a-g” requirements (which call for completing a number of semesters in a variety of subjects) is a mere 12% compared to a 40% state average rate. (Although Counselor Jan Pallazola insists that that number is artificially low because the school’s Spanish speaking students don’t take two years of “foreign language” thus making the number look much lower than it should be.)
This fact would be of first concern to a reputable faculty, but for years the core high school staff has, with an unseemly and suspicious intensity, sung its own praises.
Tomlin closed by saying that 24 of 37 high school seniors have already been accepted by colleges and universities.
Robert Pinoli, described by Tomlin as “an award-winning athletic director,” said that Tomlin had the respect of most of the staff and most of the students.
Pinoli was followed by his son, Robert Pinoli Jr., a graduate of the high school who went on to make a success of the famous Fort Bragg Skunk Line Railroad tourist attraction. Pinoli Jr. referred to what he described as “the picnic table syndrome, small talk” that undermines “the good that gets done.”
The “picnic table syndrome” seems to describe the mostly vanished morning coffee drinkers who met for years at the Redwood Drive-In to critique local events and personalities. It's members, however, have always been staunch, if often critical, supporters of the high school, especially of its sports programs.
Pinoli Jr. concluded by saying that Tomlin “is a great individual” and the Anderson Valley “is a wonderful community.”
The next six speakers, all employed at the high school, continued in the same vein. They included Jim Snyder, the teacher's representative, a young man who looks like he could be a high school student himself. Snyder read statements of support from two 13-year-old girls as if extorted remarks from children were meaningful.
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The statements of the six school employees can be summarized by the following letter signed by Snyder and widely distributed in the community:
“February 19, 2013 — Dear Parents, Students and Community Members,
I am writing to you as a parent, a teacher, and as President of the Anderson Valley Teacher’s Association, urging you to take immediate action on and before February 25.
The Anderson Valley Unified School District School Board has called a Special Board Meeting on Monday, February 25 at 6:00pm in the High School Cafeteria to address the reelection of Jim Tomlin to the position of Principal at AVHS for the 2013-2014 school year.
It has come to our attention that a contingency of the School Board is preparing to not reelect Jim Tomlin to his position as principal, for reasons not being communicated to the general public. During this Special Board Meeting, there will be a period for public comment, followed by a closed session and a vote. It is crucial that the Board hear from the members of the community in regards to the issue prior to this vote.
It is imperative that we get as many parents, students and community members as possible to write letters to the Board and to attend this meeting to voice their support for Jim Tomlin and their concern for the future of the High School. I speak on behalf of the vast majority of our High School Staff in stating that we stand firmly behind Mr. Tomlin and his leadership at our school for several reasons.
During his three years as Principal, Jim Tomlin has:
• Designed and implemented fair and consistent discipline policies that focus on the safety and well being of students, often in cases where no policy previously existed. We have seen moderate and severe discipline issues on the steady decline since Jim Tomlin took on the job as Principal.
• Helped lead the school to higher test scores, guided the school through a six-year WASC-accreditation process, and helped us to achieve numerous prestigious academic awards such as our repeated Silver Medal from the US News and World Report’s Best High Schools Rankings.
• Has supported our sports teams, athletes and coaches through many successful seasons and league championships, including seeing our teams make it to the playoffs and 2 teams winning the North Coast Section.
• Has supported the teachers and staff to help create a positive and encouraging atmosphere where students, teachers and staff feel safe and supported; from this foundation has fostered a successful academic environment where learning can take place to its fullest extent.
We feel that the non-reelection of Mr. Tomlin as Principal would be a serious detriment to our school. It opens our small school up to a potential revolving door of principals who may come with little or no connection to our unique community and its rich history and character. It would erode the cohesive parent-teacher-student-community connection essential to our school’s function and stability that Mr. Tomlin has helped to build during his 22 years of service in the District.
Jim Tomlin has been a driving force behind why we are such a successful small school in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, and why similar schools look to us for professional guidance and leadership. After these many years of dedicated service, Mr. Tomlin’s commitment to this school and its students is reflected in our past achievements and fundamental to our future success.
Please help support our efforts to retain Jim Tomlin at the High School and write to the School Board voicing your concerns. Letters may be delivered directly to the District Office or emailed directly to the Board Members themselves, but time is of the essence.
Email Addresses of Board Members (from the AVUSD Website):
Ben Anderson: email@example.com
Erica Lemons: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yadira Mendoza: email@example.com
Marti Bradford: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dick Browning: email@example.com
Our Board Members are our elected officials, and it is important that they hear your voice. Please attend the meeting on February 25 at 6:00 pm in the High School Cafeteria. There will be a period for public comment followed by a closed session deliberation and vote. All are welcome to attend and speak.
Please pass this message on quickly to other members of the community. Thank You, Jim Snyder, Mathematics and Media Arts Instructor, AVHS President, Anderson Valley Teachers Association 707-895-3326 x113Æ
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Bill Sterling, a member of the bond oversight committee, said that Tomlin “has been a steady advocate for the high school’s share of the bond money. Sterling, who has begun a volunteer Latin class at the High School, advised the school board, in Latin, to “scratch where it itches.”
There was a moving testament to Tomlin from another school employee and mother of a special education student before Mark Scaramella, also a member of the school's bond oversight committee, pointed out that the statistics brandished by the high school faculty as evidence of its own effectiveness are flawed and incorrectly cited when they aren't flawed.
Scaramella read the following statement to the Board:
“The primary purpose of the school board is make sure that academic performance is a top priority. They should make whatever decisions they see fit to make sure that it is. As far as I can tell, given the available information, academic achievement is NOT a priority at Anderson Valley High School — it is not a standard agenda item as it is in other districts and it is never mentioned in school news or other press releases.
“In fact, the available indicators show that Anderson Valley High School is below average in academics as shown by the state’s latest school quality snapshot and by the fact that the frequently cited ‘silver medal’ award is a demographic anomaly which disproportionately weights the school’s predominantly Hispanic and low-income student body.
“While there are certainly some positive things about the school and a number of the graduates, most of things that are cited as positives probably would have occurred no matter who was Principal. It is the school board’s responsibility to evaluate these things, not the staff’s. Since the school is academically undistinguished and sub-par even by Mendocino County standards, the school board should make whatever decisions they deem necessary to make academic achievement a priority in Anderson Valley. (Mark Scaramella, Anderson Valley Unified School District School Bond Oversight Committee member. Boonville)”
As Scaramella spoke, long-time high school math teacher Kathy Borst rolled her eyes and giggled with the teachers seating near her, nicely demonstrating the smug obliviousness that so infuriates a large part of the community. Borst, of course, had spoken for Tomlin, concluding her testimonial with, “Please don't jeopardize what we have accomplished here.”
Debbie Sanchez, a veteran of 34 years with the local schools, calmly denounced her former colleagues as earning “full-time money for part-time work.” Mrs. Sanchez went on to say that the high school staff and the school administration has for years put its own interests ahead of student interests. She said the high school definitely needs new direction. This bracing presentation by Mrs. Sanchez cut through all the fuzzy-warm rhetoric and implicit self-praise off all the teachers who'd spoken before her.
An hour and a half later, Anderson Valley took a giant step towards new direction when they voted 3-2 not to renew Tomlin's contract as high school principal.
Random personal observations:
Last night's school board meeting revealed deep divisions in the community, many of whose parents feel left out, and when they're not left out, patronized or ignored by an entrenched school system that seems incapable of running a high school that includes everyone. Critics feel if they complain their kid will be retaliated against. Working class white parents feel the schools are run exclusively for the children of immigrant families who now comprise the large majority of parents. Wealthier white parents exercise the home school option. Or transfer their children to Mendocino or Ukiah. These feelings have festered for a long time. An alert school apparatus would have long ago made a real effort to put them to rest. Despite unhappy grumbles about school management, the Anderson Valley is not riven with racial discontent.
I should say that I've known Superintendent Collins for many years. He's a nice man, and he's not stupid. But he's loyal to a fault, and that fault has led him to create a school district that sees its teachers, particularly its high school teachers, as its first priority. The school board's first priority, at least the first priority of three of them, is the welfare and academic success of students.
Mrs. Bradford, school board president for 16 years, in tandem with Collins and a handful of senior high school staff, has run the schools for 16 years, and the prospect of change seems to terrify them. But Mrs. Bradford runs a good meeting, as she demonstrated with her usual aplomb Monday night.
As a personality, Mrs. Bradford, on whom the years have worn well — she seems unchanged — is equal parts 19th century Victorian, Nurse Rached, and Margaret Thatcher. She's old fashioned formidable, refreshing in her way, especially in the nambo-pambo context of school affairs. I've always seemed to alarm the old girl, but we've managed to remain mutually civil over the years.
The chronology of events leading up to Monday night's dramatic board meeting went like this: Mrs. Bradford forthrightly, as is her way, said she'd called Monday's meeting on her own authority as board president. She believes in authority to her toenails, and she's not reluctant to wield it. She said there had been no closed session vote to fire Tomlin. She said there had been a closed session “conversation to get a feel for the direction of the board.”
Or smoke out dissidents, as it turned out.
Mrs. Bradford went on to say that Superintendent Collins had been sitting in on the closed session “as Tomlin's supervisor,” and that Collins “had spoken with Tomlin about it,” confirming that Collins had run to Tomlin who soon got out an e-mail to his colleagues that he'd been sacked, a big time violation of the Brown Act not that anyone seems eager to impose sanctions. Mrs. Bradford went on to say, and to say emphatically, that the Tomlin matter had not been resolved in that closed meeting, but she hoped it would be at Monday night's session where a public vote, up or down on Tomlin, would be called. “We want to get this behind us,” she said.
“Us” refers to herself, Tomlin, Collins, and the high school mice.
Ever since the closed session that leaked the news that three members of the board want a new principal, the core high school faculty had frantically lobbied their perceived allies to appear en masse at Monday's meeting, apparently not realizing that if there wasn't widespread unhappiness with the high school, from all sectors of the community, it is unlikely three trustees would say they prefer a new high school principal. It's not as if the three of them woke up last week and said, “Today, we get Tomlin.” Discontent has been smoldering for years, and Monday night it boiled over.
Tomlin's staff supporters even suggested that the removal of Tomlin would be “racist” because students from Spanish-speaking homes would somehow be harmed if Tomlin were removed.
Jerry Cox summed up the consensus staff opinion.
“In answer to your question [I'd written to the Coxes to ask them if they were beating the drums for Tomlin], Kathy and I have spoken to and invited parents of present and past students under Jim Tomlin's watch, all of whom expressed their satisfaction with his job. I spoke with some Mexican co-parishoners. Many other people have been in contact with their friends. Your piece in last week's AVA was a culmination of 10 years of diatribe against the high school. I was there for 14 years with capable teachers, good pupil scores, and no serious discipline problems. Tomlin isn't perfect, but he runs a good program.”
Kathy Cox, writing separately: “I called many Spanish Speaking parents to inform them of the meeting and to encourage them to attend, regardless of their opinion. My motive was to inform them of the way the system works so that they could participate in the process. In Mexico there are no School Boards. I called, perhaps fifteen or twenty people and explained what was happening. Of the people I talked with, only one was in favor of the position to terminate Jim Tomlin's contract. I encouraged that person to attend as well as the people who were opposed to termination of the contract. The Spanish speaking population of the School is now close to eighty percent. In the democratic process it is important that all voices are heard, regardless of the language that is spoken.”
For the record, I've been criticizing the local schools since 1971, all the way back to Superintendent Mel “Boom-Boom” Baker. The first school board meeting I ever attended introduced me to Mike Shapiro, who was also there complaining about something to do with school buses, as I recall. As complete outsiders, we were not well-received, to put it gently. But I bring it up as evidence that I am Mendocino County's senior critic of public education, thank you, and please hold your applause.
I've said for years that the local schools were a nexus of insider hiring and sloppy all-round effort, but under Collins self-serving sloth got wayyyyy outtahand, with an incidence of nepotism and insider hiring and school board stooge-stuffing that was blatant even by Mendocino County's incestuous standards.
This is the way it has worked for a very long time. The late Tom Smith, a dedicated whistleblower, was on the small end of many 4-1 votes, so many that Superintendent Collins and his four board proxies got Smith removed on the phony pretext that Smith, whose wife worked for the schools, represented an ongoing “conflict of interest.” But Collins' wife, for whom the rules were jiggered to declare signing a foreign language, taught in the schools for years with no mention of “conflict of interest.”
Local guy Dan Kuny got himself elected to the school board and, for a time, was also on the short end of many 4-1 votes. Of course he was driven out by the school cabal's odd instinct for absolute unanimity, especially as it sings hosannas for itself. (Is it unfair to point out that German school teachers were always the most enthusiastic Nazis? Yes, very unfair so I won't say it.)
Going in to Monday night's special board meeting, Yadira Sanchez-Mendoza, Erica Lemons and Ben Anderson, the three trustees disinclined to renew Tomlin's contract, undoubtedly found themselves subjected to a deluge of whining calls and Jim Jones-like communiqués from the faculty to reverse their stance.
But they stuck to their principles, and because they stuck to their principles the Anderson Valley will be a better place for it.
No sooner had I typed those rosy, optimistic words than I learned Tuesday morning that Tomlin, and his award winning athletic director, Robert Pinoli, had fired Ben Anderson as high school baseball coach.
Reached by telephone soon after Anderson's thuggish removal as baseball coach, Mrs. Bradford and Superintendent Collins said they were working to un-fire the popular coach.