Angry El Rio parents determined to shake up school board
Two high-ranking board members charged with serious crimes, as teachers are paying for supplies out of pocket
By David Michael Courtland 06/03/2010
El Rio parents, frustrated with Rio School District officials, demanded Superintendent Sherianne Cotterell’s resignation at last Thursday’s special school board meeting, setting the stage for a campaign to take control of the board in the coming November election.
“You’re violating my civil rights!” Guillermo Terrazas yelled as board president Tim Blaylock cut him off mid-speech, after reminding the audience that public comment at special meetings is limited to agenda items.
Protesters chanted, “Superintendent, resign!” and “Blaylock must go!” as Cotterell, Blaylock and the other board members walked out of the room to continue the meeting in closed session. They returned about a half-hour later and resumed the open session uninterrupted.
The effort to drive Cotterell out of office began on May 20, with a protest in view of Cottrell’s office at the school district headquarters. Cotterell, 49, was charged with misdemeanor petty theft in July after shoplifting two pair of shoes. She pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to a day in jail and 36 months probation, but is only required to serve probation.
On the same day, Brian Martin, one of the school board trustees, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for child molestation. His seat will be one of four contested in the November election — protesters displayed signs that read, “No more criminals, no more lies,” “Sherianne must go” and “Vote 4 change.”
The May 20 protest drew more than 100 people, including one member of the district’s classified staff who wore a bandana over his face for fear of being identified.
“We’re real passionate about this, we want real leadership,” said Rudy Luhr, one of the protest’s organizers, adding that public officials should be held to a high standard. “We’ve all done things in the past, but we’re not running a school district.”
The 24-hour vigil continued through Friday, with numbers dwindling to about a dozen that morning as many protesters had to leave for work, but rising again that afternoon and evening before the protest ended at 6 p.m.
“It’s an embarrassment to have administrators that are criminals and child molesters,” said Mayra Sevilla on that Friday morning as passing motorists on their way to work honked their support. “Our children are our future leaders.
We have to be an example for them.”
Veronica Garcia said she was protesting because she is “so upset, so fed up” with Cotterell, whom she says doesn’t care about students or teachers.
“All of our teachers are out of supplies,” said Garcia, who helped organize a fundraiser to buy supplies. “It came to the point that we had to ask for money from parents in order to buy our teachers paper.”
“We’re trying to teach our kids the right morals, the proper way, then you have a shoplifting superintendent,” said Melissa Revelez, who emphasized she has nothing but praise for the district’s teachers.
“We’ve just been so blessed with the best teachers, they spend their own money on supplies,” said Revelez. “You couldn’t ask for better.”
Cotterell answered phone calls to her office with e-mail messages, casting herself as the victim of a campaign by Rio Teachers Asssociation President, Rebecca Barbetti and former trustee Henrietta Macias, one of the protest organizers.
Barbetti says the union didn’t organize the protest, but Macias says she is running for the board and knows others who intend to as well.
“[Cotterell] says she’s not going to resign, but in November there’s four board seats open,” said Macias on Friday, “and parents are going to want a change.”
But Cotterell indicates in her e-mail that she will not be forced out of her job by the protesters and recent bad press.
“I have faced bullies all my life. I do not intend to be distracted from the good work we are doing for children, and neither does the board,” Cotterell says in an e-mail. “No number of vigils, no misleading flyers, no politics, no bullying tactics are going to change that.
“We intend to move forward and focus on the well-being of children as we always have,” Cotterell continues. “These corrupt bullies can continue to waste time and try to destroy their critics, but it will not deter us from the work we believe in, and that is truly making a difference for children and families.”