Calif. School District Struggles
Nov. 01, 2002
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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Teachers skipped school and most students stayed home Friday as a tiny, insolvent school district struggled to remain open after failing to pay employees.
Only about 10 percent of the West Fresno School District's 1,000 students and 59 teachers came to school, and no instruction was planned, said David Kennedy, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association.
``It's warehousing, it's not education,'' Kennedy said. ``It's a tragedy for the kids who are here.''
The chaos came a day after the district's elected board failed to decide whether to cede control to the county in exchange for the cash needed to meet its payroll. State education officials called the situation unprecedented.
Clerical staff and teachers were told to show up Friday or face discipline, but most teachers decided Thursday they would not work without pay.
Attendance officer Leslie Antazo, a single mother, said she needed her paycheck for essentials like house and car payments. ``How about eating?'' she added.
The school board was to consider a compromise Saturday that would let it keep an advisory role in running the district.
The district, in a poor, rural section of Fresno, has a rough history.
In 1991, the state Supreme Court threw out election results for the board because of illegal absentee ballots. In the last 18 months, the district has had six superintendents, and it's facing more than 20 lawsuits from former employees, county schools chief Pete Mehas said.
Mehas estimated the district's debt at about $220,000.
``In the 40 years I've been in this business, I've never ever dealt with a more dysfunctional, inept, incompetent, irresponsible board than West Fresno,'' Mehas said.