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School trustee’s parting plea: End negativity

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Last Tuesday (Jan. 8), my 8-year tenure on the Petaluma City School Board of Education, the last two as Board President, came to an end. I was fortunate to have served with knowledgeable, experienced district administration and dedicated citizen volunteers on the Board of Trustees. I’m proud of our district and the job the board did during my tenure. It was time, energy and effort well spent.

While I enjoyed my volunteer time with the district, it was quite frustrating and very disappointing that the leadership of the teacher’s union, the Petaluma Federation of Teachers (PFT), constantly worked against us, including personal attacks in the press and misstatements of information to their membership and the community.

As I departed, I shared concerns regarding the relationship between the Board of Education and the PFT Executive Board. I wanted the PFT to understand that the board is made up of community members and personal attacks are damaging and painful. Unfortunately, my heart-felt concerns fell on deaf ears as there was another round of dishonesty and personal attacks directed at me in a Letter to the Editor by PHS teacher/PFT Vice President Krista O’Connor the following Thursday (Jan. 10). I’m writing this to address and correct her dishonesty.

In my departing comments, I referenced a resolution the board acted on at an emergency meeting in 2017 and the dishonest PFT conduct that followed. The district and the PFT were in active contract negotiations and a teachers’ strike was impending. A boiler plate resolution document from the Association of California School Administrators was given to us in anticipation of the strike to make sure the district could continue to run in an emergency by granting the district limited emergency powers that would normally require advanced board approval.

Ms. O’Connor states the board was trying to correct a past egregious mistake when the board passed the emergency resolution. She further asserts that the resolution passed stated any employee participating in the strike would lose their job. Both statements could not be further from the truth.

The proposed resolution contained a section allowing the district to document and discipline striking employees. The board rewrote and struck all references to listing, naming and disciplining employees for striking, working to rule or walking out. This was our first review of this resolution and we removed all such references.

The amendments to that proposed resolution are documented in the meeting minutes (May 21, 2017), which also reflect my comments as Board President, in part, as follows: “Board President Chlebowski emphasized the following: a. The Board does not need to know the names of employees that strike. b. No employee will be disciplined for striking on Wednesday.”

However, the PFT posted the complete opposite on Facebook the following day: “The School Board threatened to prepare reports against each employee who engages in legally protected labor activities.” They communicated this false, dishonest message to all teachers, staff and the community during the strike. Ms. O’Connor was present at the emergency meeting, spoke at the meeting, and has access to the meeting minutes. There is no logical reason for her intentional dissemination of lies or her hateful, dishonest attack of my character.

We heard a lot from the PFT about “respect” and “trust” throughout my term. Respect and trust should be given and received by everyone; but I can honestly say that respect and trust from the PFT leadership for the board or the administration was missing during the last few years. I sincerely hope Ms. O’Connor will start practicing what she preaches moving forward.

While I certainly appreciate vigorous advocacy and the value of collective bargaining and other benefits of unions, I do not appreciate being personally vilified or unfairly characterized. There was no cause for it, and it served no constructive purpose. Frankly, if such dishonesty and hostility continue the only thing it will do is drive away good volunteers, weaken the district and ultimately negatively impact enrollment.

Working together is always what is best for an organization, and I can whole heartedly say that while I was on the Board of Education this is what I experienced as the board’s collective and individual goals.

(Sheri Chlebowski is a former Petaluma City School Board President.)