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Letters (May 30, 2018)

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Peace & Blessings To Anderson Valley School District:

I want to respond to the letter of No Confidence from the teachers’ and classified staff of AVUSD against Michelle Hutchins, our Superintendent, and candidate for County Superintendent of Schools.

This letter of No Confidence contains assertions that I disagree with.

I am the current Resource Specialist at AV Elementary School (AVES), and the head of the Special Education Department. I have been an educator for 32 years, taught 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 7th grades, have been a Special Education teacher for 17 years now, taught as an Assistant Professor of Education at Sonoma State University for 14 years, and served as Education Specialist for the Sonoma County Office of Education, Curriculum & Instruction Department for 7 years. I have been a teacher at 7 different school districts, both large and small, in Sonoma, Marin, Solano, and Mendocino counties. When I was a consultant for SCOE, I led classes for thousands of teachers and parents at school districts across northern California. My classes included Positive Discipline, Building Community, Parent Education, Conflict Resolution, etc. I facilitated teambuilding and consensus decision-making, and group problem solving with school staffs and school boards day in and day out for 7 years. I specialized in every aspect of creating a positive environment in schools for students, educators, and parents, which is my personal and professional mission. I have a Multi-Subject Clear Credential, a Special Education Clear credential, and a Preliminary Administration credential. My parents were both teachers, and my husband and grandfather were teachers, coaches, and principals.

I believe I am well qualified to register a credible professional opinion about recent developments at Anderson Valley Schools, having two years of service there. Michelle Hutchins, rather than being a cause for the turnovers in Special Education teachers as the No Confidence letter claims, has been outstanding in creating a wonderful Learning Center for special needs children at AVES, has recruited and developed bilingual teachers who are long time residents of Anderson Valley to be Special Education teachers, and was the #1 reason I took the job as Resource Specialist at AVES.

I have been the friend and confidant of many a superintendent of small school districts in Sonoma County, and none do I respect more than Michelle Hutchins. Her personal warmth, integrity, positivity, intelligence, and down to earth nature charmed me immediately. I was so excited to work in beautiful Anderson Valley with such sweet humanistic employees, that I volunteered many weeks of service before officially taking my position there.

I was blown away by AV Elementary School, with its very small class sizes, well-mannered students, dedicated teachers, its music, computer, library, gardening, PE, and Art specialists, its wealth of classified aides, and its glorious setting. I have never seen such a resource-rich elementary school, and I have known scores of schools.

Unfortunately, the principal who was hired for the elementary school last year, while she had doctorates, experience, and could talk a good story, did not have the ethics, the knowledge, or the common sense to be a school principal. I have known scores of principals, and she was the most unqualified person for the job I have ever encountered by far. This principal and I shared mutual disrespect for one another, and we disagreed over such things as whether or not a certain student had an IEP or not. She could not remember an IEP meeting that she attended two weeks before, and ripped me apart for contradicting her and affirming to a family that, yes, their child had an IEP.

In the Spring of 2017, I was terminated without cause or documentation from my position as half-time Resource Specialist. I had received exemplary praise for the one lesson that I was evaluated on. I was verbally abused and the personal whipping post for the principal. I could handle this because I confided my opinions to Michelle Hutchins. She did not respond verbally, but let me know she cared about my concerns.

Eventually Michelle and the entire staff at AVES except for a couple of people, realized that the principal was unfit for their position. The teachers voted at a union meeting to give the principal a warning that if a sudden turnaround in behavior did not happen within 30 days, the teachers would register a Vote of No Confidence with the school board.

I believe that the principal was given a forewarning by a teacher friend of hers of the upcoming poor evaluation, because the morning of the day the teachers’ representatives were going to confront her, was the day she created a diversion by calling the Sheriff, talking trash to the press, and “ruining” the reputation of Anderson Valley Schools (particularly Michelle Hutchins) by making absurd false accusations like being held against her will in the district office.

I personally knew the dark side of this principal well, and believed her capable of such Jerry Springer tactics. I immediately believed that Michelle Hutchins was innocent of all the phony accusations against her.

Unfortunately, a lot of people believe what they read in the press, and many parents and staff blamed Michelle, and not the rightful drama queen who caused the whole spectacle. This culprit’s own daughter claims publicly on the Web that her mother leaves “a trail of destruction” wherever she goes.

Fortunately, Anderson Valley has a wise and compassionate school board. They investigated the matter thoroughly, and found Michelle Hutchins innocent of all charges of wrong-doing. They decided to hire a public relations consultant to repair the damage that had been done to the district’s reputation at a cost of $6,000. This was the board’s choice, not Michelle’s.

Meanwhile, Michelle disappointed the teaching and classified staffs by not giving them another raise (no money for it) and by being in charge when a couple of beloved local colleagues were no longer employed by the district. Couple this with a need for a scapegoat, a few outspoken negativists fired up the unions against Michelle. They touted vague, unsubstantiated, emotional claims against her. The unions claimed a Vote of No Confidence unanimous when dissenting or officially neutral teachers were not accounted for at the Board Meetings or in the press. I personally stopped attending union meetings last year because a very few seasoned, local teachers were so caustic in their wish to fire Michelle Hutchins. I did not want to argue nor could I stand to listen to the poisonous rhetoric. Their anger was mainly fueled by revenge for their friends losing their positions due to unknown reasons, as employers are forbidden to identify causes for dismissal.

Other fellow staff members were distanced from the unions and the Michelle controversy, and officially took no position in order to not be a part of this negativity/scapegoating development. We are dismayed with the animosity and conflict that a few chronic complainers are spear-heading at board meetings. I personally have tried my best to keep my opinions to myself in hopes that peace and sensibility would win out.

However, when I read the letter of No Confidence from the teachers I became morally indignant by some of its total falsehoods.

#1 Falsehood: Michelle is the primary cause for the turnover in Special Education teachers at AVSD.

The only reason I am working as head of Special Education is because Michelle personally recruited me, supported me, and rehired me after my wrongful dismissal last year. I have talked with four of the former Special Education teachers and they personally told me the reason for their resignations which were: desire to retire, not wanting to return to graduate school to obtain the proper credentialing for their job; a distaste for the responsibility of IEP meetings and IEP paperwork; and the stress that a couple of out of control Special Education students/difficult parents had produced. Not only has Michelle not caused the turnovers, she has actively recruited and hired local residents of Boonville who are bilingual and possess Bachelor’s degrees to pursue special education credentials. There are three of such cases I know of.

#2 Falsehood: Michelle is the reason for Special Education lawsuits.

Having sat in on contentious IEP meeting after contentious IEP meeting, I can testify that Michelle has bent over backwards to please families, serve the needs of students, stay legally compliant, and be mindful of the financial implications for the district. I know that Michelle peacefully settled a recent lawsuit, and prevented one; for if I had not been able to find suitable employment, I myself might have sued AVSD for wrongful dismissal last year.

#3 Falsehood: Michelle is not a consensus-oriented leader.

Au contraire! Name another school district who would put administrators, classified staff, certificated staff, and parents on a Budget Reduction Committee to define where the budget should be cut!

Every district I have ever worked for unilaterally eliminated music, library, PE, art programs, computer specialist, and all non-teacher positions when there was a need for budget cut-backs. Class size was increased, as were the teacher duties. It is absolutely amazing and miraculous that substantial funds were cut from the budget without one employee lay off nor one student program cut! Hats off to the Board, Michelle, and the Budget Reduction Committee!

Michelle Hutchins has always had an open door policy towards every employee and parent in the district. Many complainers would rather attack her from afar than inform themselves of the facts by talking with Michelle personally.

AVUSD employees are mad because their pay is not increasing, while the cost of living is increasing. Michelle is not to blame for this; the economy is likewise affecting others similarly, and education funding does not provide well-educated teachers fair compensation. Such is the case in every school district. This is not Michelle’s doing.

I suspect that many union members went along with a Vote of No Confidence for Michelle not because they were sick of Michelle, but because they wanted an end to the controversy and negativism surrounding her.

I appall poisonous emotions being funneled toward a benevolent person who has done their very best to serve Anderson Valley.

Michelle Hutchins is leaving AVUSD in the near future, which is their loss. Hopefully, she will become the County Superintendent of Schools, for which she is well qualified.

Some AVUSD employees unfortunately undermine their own district’s reputation by their chronic criticism and negativity. If they want the best for AVUSD, and to increase student enrollment, staff would best be served by grateful public appreciation for the many outstanding programs and services the district now provides plus the unbelieveably low class sizes. 

You have two talented and popular principals, and many exciting, new endeavors such as the home school program and bilingual education.

Please thank and support the AVUSD School Board and all AVUSD employees who faithfully serve students and families. You have a wonderful school district, but only you can restore the community to good will, harmony, and teamwork. It does no good to play the blame game. There is no perfect school district or administrator. Yours is a fortunate circumstance; appreciate it.

PS. I am personally donating approximately $12,000 worth of new school furniture, curriculum, learning games, office supplies, student rewards, and copier/printer to AVES Learning Center; which would not have occurred without Michelle Hutchins personally saving my job last year.

Kudos to the AVUSD School Board for using common sense and listening to the attorneys. They are saving the district a potential lawsuit or the cost of buying out an expensive contract.

I wish the best for the entire Anderson Valley Community.

Peace and love, 

Robyn Hamilton, Resource Specialist 

AVES, Boonville 

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Mendocino Coast District Hospital serves a population which is mostly Medicare, Medicaid or uninsured. Privately insured patients are rare. Reimbursement rates are set by the feds and cannot be changed to reflect actual cost of services provided. The hospital has to stay staffed regardless of how many beds are filled. This is why rural hospitals are closing. They’re not being paid according to cost and they have no power to be so paid. It’s not due to improper management!

Hospital billing is a nightmare. Knowing how to run a successful business does not equate with knowing how to create a financially successful hospital. Our taxes and Medicare payments should be paying for our community hospital. They are not. If we want a hospital we have to pay for it.

The Board of Directors chooses the CEO and CFO. We elect the Board. This hospital keeps hiring, then firing. I have watched what looks to me to be good CEOs being fired and it seems that has to do with our process as a community. Maybe it gives us something to do, someplace to put our anger at a life or a world that isn’t going according to plan. I don’t know. What I do understand is that this small hospital has miraculously survived thus far. This must be, at least in part, due to the efforts and intelligence of staff, CEOs and CFOs.

So if we choose not to pay, consider this: you or your loved one needs treatment — an accident, a medical emergency has arisen. We have no hospital. The condition can be stabilized before transport, then your person is ambulanced — to where? Treatment may be available in Willits or Ukiah. A bed will not be, because they are nearly always full of locals. So, for a bed you must go to Napa, Santa Rosa, Marin or San Francisco, depending on where there is an open bed (the search for this bed may take considerable staff time resulting in a long wait for the patient). Will family and friends stop by to visit? Will family be able to afford meals and accommodations in the area? Perhaps you have a procedure done and are sent home (not unusual for MCDH to receive patients back from other hospitals to stabilize for a couple of days before being sent home). Now your family gets to do post operative care at home, becoming your personal medical team, cleaning wounds, hoping meds are correct. Should there be a second emergency because things at home haven’t gone as hoped, it’s back into car or ambulance or perhaps helicopter and the situation continues.

I have lived on the Coast for 40 years. I have been to the ER many times for small problems and for very large ones. I have always been treated with respect and care. When I had to wait for treatment it was because others were in greater need. I am sure that mistakes have been made at MCDH over the years, that things have been misperceived or overlooked. We are human beings, after all and humans do err. Please do not believe that staff in large hospitals do not err. Of course they do. I don’t know the percentages, but I know that outcomes are not always the hoped for ones. Some errors in big teaching hospitals end in death or disability. Wherever and whenever this occurs it’s tragic. I doubt, however, that it happens more often at MCDH. It’s just that here we’re a small community and when an error is made, we all hear about it.

Please, my friends and neighbors, get as involved as you feel called to or as conscience speaks to you to be involved, but please vote for Measure C. For these reasons and all the varied reasons others have voiced, we must keep our hospital.

Respectfully, Susan McNeil

Fort Bragg

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Dear Editor,

I first met Ted Williams at a candidate forum in Boonville several months ago.  I was immediately impressed about what a serious and intelligent young man he is.  He is soft spoken and seemed quite well versed about a variety of county issues and concerns. He listened carefully to the questions and suggestions from the audience, gave thoughtful answers and didn’t make unrealistic promises.  He is interested in evidence based decision making.  He followed up personally by phone about certain issues that we had discussed at the meeting.

I learned that Ted had grown up on the Mendocino Coast and had graduated from Mendocino High School.  He has a 23year career as a software developer, a business that he currently runs, at least partly, by telecommuting from his Mendocino coast home.  He has been the Albion Little River Fire Chief since 2011 and co-authored measures M and V, which sought to protect our forests from the effects of herbicide spraying.

Because of Ted’s deep roots here in Mendocino County, he is committed to preserving both our natural environment as well as our unique rural life style.  The combination of his youth and his technical background help him understand the steps we need to take so that children growing up here can participate in the economy of the future.

I am very happy to endorse Ted Williams as the next Supervisor from the Fifth District.  

Dan Mandelbaum 


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The Texas killer used a shotgun and a revolver, which have been around for 160 years. We didn’t have these killings 160 years ago. We teach kids ABCs, and we expect to get ABCs back. We show them violent movies and video games, and we expect to get kittens and flowers back. Grow up. We have raised a generation of killers.

Mark Swendsen


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That "Earth is in human hands" includes even us in the 5th District of Mendocino.

In 2002 I ran for 5th District Supervisor and looking back much of what I said was to a degree prescient. Climate Change had not been popularly recognised or the term coined, yet the opening sentence on my sample ballot statement read “Most who read this are aware of the great battering the dominant corporate system visits upon the environment and upon humankind itself.” I went on to proclaim, “Balance and the laws of Nature demand recognition.” And “Earth, Air, Fire and Water are so fundamental to all life that they must be considered sacred. Their purity is essential.” My platform was about how to acknowledge and address the hugh issues through “Local Control”.

Any error on my part was not with regards to the belligerent threat itself, rather with my assessment of even liberal Mendocino’s disregard or resignation and/or the power of status quo. I lost with only 1/3 of the vote to 2/3s for the incumbent David Colfax.

In all ways these same conditions exist today - now demonstrably more evident. 

Climate Change as a symptom of environmental degradation is huge but its human produced carbonic stressors are not alone in the planetary battering. Throw in plastic, industrial and medical chemical debris as well as disgraceful and disregardful spread of human greed in the strive for wealth and power.

The symptoms of the battering of the human psyche is evident in the epidemics of drug use and abuse - both licit and illicit, homelessness, mental heath crisis and so painfully the school and other mass shootings. On many fronts environmental and social, much is out of balance and stressed from similarly caused human endeavor and weigh heavy with catastrophic forebodings.

Relative to the current run for 5th District Supervisor there is a lack of focus from all candidates on the not so distant future in which many scientists see a mass extinction of life forms evolving that might also include humankind itself. So dire that before death Stephen Hawking pronounced we had but a hundred years to find another planet.

That being said Chris Skyhawk is my choice and my recommendation for 5th District Supervisor for the plain and simple reason that he is the one candidate that has devoted his life to the environment and to those people among us that are most at risk, both families and children, from the ongoing destabilization of the current social disorder. I believe he understands the relationship between environment and personal health and will consider both as he makes decisions affecting current and future impacts.

Art Juhl might know money and how to make you laugh but I don’t get much more out of him with regards to people and planet. “If the other Board members don’t vote my way I’ll blackmail them,” he declared at one forum.

Alan Rodier (and his wife) is very amiable and when in town feels like one of us but not progressive enough for real change

Ted Williams looks pretty good - youngish, dynamic - but scary to me in his involvement and commitment to high tech and Silicon Valley run by ethicless titans with monopolistic power over our lives and “… are robbing us of our humanity, our values and our ability to grapple with complexity.” (Quote from the back cover of ‘World Without Mind - The Existential Threat of Big Tech’ by Franklin Foer. It’s in the library and should be read.)

David Roderick is like a personal joke on me — a disaster. Hand-picked by my friend Dan Hamburg, whom I gave a hundred bucks to on his return from Washington run for local office, David seems to suffer many of the proclivities that makes Dan such a lousy Supervisor. David appears to be a status quo conservative - in his words a “ … don’t really care" Republican. Primary and revealing for me was when he mimicked a statement and attitude made to me by Hamburg and said to my face that he didn’t even want to hear from those liberal “Albion and Mendocino people.” Supervisor 101 demands that you listen to all your constituents. Carrying the joke a step further: Isn’t it a questionable foreign entity influence on an American election when the French House of Roederer promotes Roderick on the fences of its vineyards along Hwy 128 and also revealing of Roderick’s political connections and obligations?  

So I repeat - Chris Skyhawk for 5th District Supervisor.

David Severn


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SoCo Supervisor Susan Gorin said, “We could have saved lives if we’d had a better system of alerts.” We do. And, allegedly, someone issued a directive to not use it. Other than the wind and explosions of transformers and fuel tanks, an eerie silence was notable.

As with most that night, I was wakened not by sirens or alerts but rather family knocking on my door as their houses burned a mile or two away. They only woke because a tree branch fell on the roof. Another family member was wakened by a neighbor and had only enough time to save himself and his three kids.

Emergency vehicles raced back and forth in all directions, lights flashing and motors screaming to race to where they needed to be. Can you imagine the sound of hundreds of emergency vehicles’ sirens going at one time? Could you imagine sleeping through that? Me neither.

So who made the call to silence the sirens? It is rumored that it was in an effort to not create a panic. So we slept. With all due respect, we can sleep later. I think that running for one’s life is a perfectly appropriate time to panic.

Mike Kosta

Santa Rosa

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People are to blame for shootings, not guns. People are sick, and they need to be fixed. It's bad parenting. Drugs. Political correctness. Out-of-control videos. Political correctness is ruining this country. When kids come home and parents don't have time for them they send them into watch violent videos. Then if they try to correct him, he calls 911 and gets the cops to come. The cops arrest the parents without them having a chance to say anything and so on and so on. There is your political correctness.

Liberals are responsible for MS-13, and the homeless problem. Guys like Gavin Newsom, who was the mayor of San Francisco, left it a filthy city. It's just ugly what the Liberals have done to this country. They have no respect for the flag, the anthem, the historical stuff, they are anti-American. They had 24 years to get bad stuff done and they are trying to block everything President Trump does, disrespecting the Constitution, getting rid of the first and second amendments.

The teachers union is the most liberal institution in the United States. They teach our children anti-Americanism, they produce bad grades for our students, they get too much money per student, and they try to force them to accept Allah. 

Do I hate liberals? Yes I do! They stand for everything bad. They hate America. They love open borders. They love dope. They are anti-law enforcement. They disrespect the flag. They are responsible for everything wrong.

Gavin Newsom will give you a worse administration than California has now. He started homelessness and turned San Francisco into a [bleep]hole. It is the dirtiest city in the world. Now homelessness has become a national tragedy. Liberals like to accept money from slimeballs like George Soros, Michael Moore, a piece of blupper with a face, and all the cuckoos in Hollywood. Do I hate liberals? Yes I do! Do you blame me?

Vote for Charles Allen for governor of California, you can't go wrong with him. He will turn this state back into a good state like it should be — accept for the people who are running it.

God bless Donald Trump.

Jerry Philbrick


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