SB Unified dispute centered on hiring
Ryan Carter and Wesley G. Hughes, Staff Writers
Posted: 05/21/2011 05:58:34 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – A dispute over the promotion of the school district’s No. 2 executive illustrates a meltdown of relations between the district and a panel intended as a check on district power.

From 1966, when the district’s Personnel Commission was created, to about three years ago, the commission and the district had a good relationship, San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Arturo Delgado said.

The idea in the 1960s was to create a body to ensure fair and equitable hiring practices at a time when the district was 80 percent white, School Board President Danny Tillman said.

But about four years ago, things started going downhill.

Disputes arose between district administrators and personnel commissioners – like the one over Associate Superintendent Mel Albiso’s job – about what positions were classified and how each side interprets the Education Code.

That code calls for a merit system when recruiting for classified – or nonteaching, noncredentialed – positions. In the system, candidates for jobs must be thoroughly evaluated, and there should be more than one candidate considered.

That’s the commission’s obligation, current and former commissioners and union officials say.

But over the past few years, “so far, the relationship has been contentious,” Delgado said.

In the case of Albiso, for instance, each side believes it has the sole right by law to recruit and evaluate the top candidates – or candidate – for the job.

The rift has sparked concerns of potential cronyism at the district’s highest levels. And it has fostered frustration among district managers that the commission is holding back hiring for hundreds of positions.

Under its former director, Abe Flory III, the commission began exerting what Flory said was its rightful authority – evaluating, recruiting and testing classified, or noncertificated, employees – anyone from teaching aides to janitors.

Its authority was over the process of recruiting and testing nonteaching employees.

And the commission has served a vital role, said Steven Holt, first vice president of the California School Employees Association, and president of its local chapter.

“To our union, the commission is two things: If you are fired illegally, you can appeal to the commission to ask for a fair hearing to reinstate your job. No. 2, it creates a fairer hiring process, void of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism,” Holt said.

But any measure of agreement struck between the district and commission over the past 40 years ended with Flory, who was on the commission from 2004 to 2007.

In fact, some, like Tillman, laid the source of recent troubles, at Flory’s feet.

Others say Flory – a career personnel manager – when he directed the commission, began asking questions about four years ago, and shaking up the status quo.

Then came the litigation.

Delgado explained that the district sued the commission over its creation of an employee discipline plan it put in place, saying the plan should have been the result of bargaining between the district and the unions.

But the sides don’t even seem to agree on who won.

The district won, Delgado said. But the commission’s chairman, Gino Barabani, said that all the court did was order the commission to rewrite the discipline procedures.

Delgado and others have also complained that the commission’s inaction has prevented the district from filling 300 nonteaching positions in the district, such as police officers, clerks, gardeners, janitors and technical specialists.

“We can’t hire them, because they’re slowing us down,” Delgado said.

But when the district performs personnel functions, which the commission claims are rightly their’s, there is a high “error rate” in the evaluation process – including poor customer service, and sluggishness in contacting applicants, Flory said.

Flory argues that he was wrongfully terminated for stirring things up, and last week was making his case to a hearing officer during an administrative hearing.

“Over a period of years, I and the commission were asking questions,” he said, adding that beginning in 2006 the goal was to take back from the district the commission’s “legally mandated” functions.

Flory claims it was the district, not the commission, who fired him.

The commission itself is under the control of a different director – Bryan Astrachan, 44 – who has been criticized for being too politically aligned with the district.

The commission appointed him, Delgado said, but later wanted to oust him.

“For reasons that I don’t know, they didn’t want him,” Delgado said.

Barabani said, “They are trying to force (Astrachan) on the commission and (the district) should come to their senses and let the commission do their jobs.”

Tillman said the same of the commission.

“We won’t let them force us to hire someone we don’t want,” he said.

The back-and-forth had a new wrinkle last week when Holt’s union sued the district.

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