Anaheim Union High School District’s board of trustees met Thursday night, rarely mentioning their controversial 3-2 vote earlier this month to fire Superintendent Elizabeth Novack.
Board members did hear from a half dozen residents who protested the firing and a reported severance payout of around $250,000 to Novack, who had a year left on her contract. One resident threatened a recall.
District officials have given no reason for the firing, fueling a slew of rumors.
Board President Brian O’Neal introduced interim Superintendent Sandy Barry, previously a superintendent for the Anaheim City School District.
O’Neal, who told the public that board members wouldn’t publicly address the firing, promised a “vigorous search for the next superintendent.”
Barry sounded a comforting but brief note, saying, “I’m to here to support all of you.”
Ironically, the same board majority that voted to oust Novack declined to take over the board chairmanship Thursday night.
Board member Annemarie Randle-Trejo voted against herself as board chair despite publicly saying, “I could see myself being president.”
O’Neal will serve another year as board president.
Randle-Trejo declined to talk about her vote after the meeting, only saying, “I’m going to leave that to your interpretation.”
Four Latino families came out Thursday night to publicly urge board members to consider hiring a new superintendent with a deeper understanding of Anaheim’s immigrant communities when it comes to communication.
“We need a bilingual superintendent,” said Maria Vazquez, speaking in Spanish at the public podium through a translator.
Vazquez challenged board members to better involve Latino families in the search.
“How will parents be integrated into the school district?” Vazquez asked. “We need a person who is transparent, who speaks to us.”
After addressing the dais, all the Spanish speakers urged for better translation of public speakers, saying it’s tough to get involved in meetings without a good ability to listen to proceedings.
None felt as if the meeting’s translator had really told board members what they said in Spanish.
Several speakers also noticed from the parking lot that the boardroom building’s doors were locked to the outside while the public meeting was still under way, which is illegal under state law.
Thus, anyone leaving Thursday night’s meeting couldn’t return unless someone opened the door from the inside.
To the group of speakers, the locked doors served as evidence of how the district views working-class Latino families.
Inside the boardroom, longtime Latino activist Art Montez, himself a former school board member, urged the board to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act as they consider adopting new districts.
Montez, who spoke on behalf of the League of Latin American Citizens, was not complimentary of the school board’s process so far.
He argued that it has been evasive in terms of sharing voting block numbers and added that the district’s process had not been inclusive.
Montez threatened to file a lawsuit if they moved to adopt election lines that don’t result in more Latino representation.
“We have sufficient parents to support us in this action and any action regarding inequities in the process,” Montez said.
Consultants for the board largely echoed, albeit in a more neutral fashion, Montez’s point.
According to federal law, if they can, board members have to create large Latino voting blocks in the district, according to the consultants.
The district’s student population is 64 percent Latino, 16 percent Asian and Pacific Islander and 12 percent white, according to the state.
Another public speaker, Linda Lobatos, also urged board members to consider feedback from undocumented members of the community.
She said they should think outside the box in terms of setting up a way for board members to communicate with groups of parents who are fearful of government agencies.
“Parents are scared of retaliation,” Lobatos said.
The district oversees the education of about 32,000 students from the cities of Anaheim, Cypress, Buena Park, La Palma and Stanton.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m.