By Nancy Gutierrez
The Farmersville Unified School District Board has confiscated yet another computer from a school employee, this time from a junior high school teacher, on April 14.
The board had seized two computers prior to this incident, one from Superintendent Janet Jones and another from high school teacher Tony Decaro. The seizures have nothing to do with leud behavior. Instead they revolve around the November school board elections and the current investigation of Jones.
Previously, Farmersville High School teacher Tony Decaro had his computer confiscated during a surprise visit by board members. Decaro was also interviewed by the board and their legal counsel about materials found in the computer. Decaro's lawyer, Wesley Green, said the motivation for the inquiry is based on Decaro's involvement in campaigns supporting Don Mason and Al Vanderslice, incumbents who lost the race to now board president, Martin Macareno and board member Blanca Sandoval.
"It is very common for candidates to be criticized by staff and teachers in the district," Green said. "But when the election is over you put it behind you. These two members took it personally and they have a clear problem with Janet Jones."
It is not illegal for teachers to support a certain candidate as long as public funds are not used for campaigning purposes. Farmersville Teachers Union (FTU) president and junior high school teacher Terry Nardiello said the board's actions are harassment.
"After an interview with Tony Decaro the lawyer turned to me and said the board is not interested in Tony Decaro the board is interested in putting this superintendent issue behind us," he said.
Nardiello spoke during a special board meeting on April 12, when the Farmersville Unified School District Board was discussing the discipline and possible dismissal of Decaro.
"Because Mr. Decaro wouldn't lie he is going to be sacrificed today," Nardiello said.
At the meeting teachers and community members came to Decaro's defense urging the board not to make a mistake in firing Decaro. Many spoke about the contributions Decaro had made to the high school and community. Decaro is a computer and graphic arts teacher at FHS. Decaro's co-workers brought up the fact that he is also the yearbook advisor and designer and wrote FHS's alma mater. One teacher explained that eliminating Decaro would decrease the high schools vocational education classes by 25 percent. Some questioned the reasoning behind the disciplinary action and said firing Decaro would hurt students the most.
"There are probably 20-30 teachers who have done what Tony is alleged to have done," Green said. "Mrs. Jones never directed Tony to do anything on school time. There is nothing he can give them."
After deliberating for close to an hour the board made no decision concerning Decaro's employment.
Green said there were several reasons for the outcome. First and foremost is the fact that Decaro is a partial permanent employee who is paid by the district as well as the county Office of Education.
"They thought he was a probationary employee but he is a part time permanent employee who is paid by the district," Green said. "It is more difficult to terminate him and is one more reason why they didn't take action."
Green also believes it is a conflict of interest for Macareno and Sandoval to be involved in the discussion regarding Decaro's employment. He said he asked the two board members to recuse themselves from the April 12 board meeting and they refused.
"The way I describe it as, is, if you hit me and I sued you, but when you show up to court, I am the judge. There is a conflict of interest," Green said.
Green also credited the many teachers, students and community members who came to support Decaro.
"These allegations are so minimal," Green said. "If someone sends pornographic materials through e-mail on school computers they might not even get terminated, depending on the length of time and if no students were involved. A teacher who had done that would be placed on paid administrative leave. Compared to that this is way over the top."
Nardiello said this third computer confiscation is more intimidation by the board as part of an attempt to oust Superintendent Janet Jones. Jones was placed on paid administrative leave in January by the board pending an investigation for unspecified reasons. Jones had also campaigned for the re-election of incumbents Al Vanderslice and Don Mason. After the elections in November it was reported that Macareno asked for Jones' resignation and Jones did not resign.
"This is a witch-hunt and it's encroaching on teacher's rights," Nardiello said. "Is he going to confiscate 129 computers?"
Green said the cost of analyzing the hard-drive of one computer is close to $1,500.
"They don't seem to care about the money or due process," Green said
Lawyers representing the FTU sent a letter to the board regarding unannounced classroom visits, since then the board has ceased visiting classes without prior notice.
"[The board] should be focused on operating the schools and the growth impact we are expecting next year," Nardiello said.
On Dec. 23 board members met for a special meeting with the intention of appointing an acting superintendent and an unspecified personnel action as well as retaining legal services from the Los Angeles based law firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen. No action was taken on those items. At a Jan. 8 meeting the board terminated its contract with the Fresno based firm Lozano, Smith and hired the aforementioned L.A. based firm. At a Jan. 13 meeting Jones was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
December was also the start of a major recall effort of FUSD board members. Enrique Ramos and Conrado Gonzalez were the first members given recall petitions. Their recall election is set for Aug. 3. Candidates looking to run against Gonzalez and Ramos have from April 12 through May 20 to turn in applications to the Tulare County Elections Office.
On Feb 19 board member John Vasquez was served recall papers, followed by the two remaining members Sandoval and Macareno who received papers at a March 23 meeting. The Aug. 3 recall elections will cost the district $20,000. The grand total for all three recall elections is $60,000. In a recall the elected official has the right to answer the charges given as justification for the recall. Proponents of the recall draw up a recall petition to the specifications of the county and submit the blank petition to the official. Once the official answers the charges, if they choose to do so, then the petition is submitted to the county elections office who must approve the petition before it can be circulated for signatures. Once the minimum number of signatures are collected, the recall proponents must return the signed petition to the elections office for verification that the names are of voting citizens of the city. One candidate has already filed for the Farmersville recall election Aug.3.