Trinidad Petition To Oust Superintendent

The community of Trinidad has started a petition calling for the resignation of District 1's new superintendent.

Chants and signs filled Cimino Park in Trinidad Friday.

"Save our district, save our students, save our education," chanted community members.

A concerned crowd displayed their distrust in Trinidad District 1's superintendent Dr. Manuel Rodriguez.

Over 50 community members signed a "Vote of No Confidence" petition to oust the first-year superintendent.

Parents tell 11 News they fear he is not working in the best interest of students.

Students say changes in the classrooms are affecting the quality of their education and willingness to learn.

"It's frustrating to us that it's changing so much, but for the worse, not for the better," said Trinidad High School junior Kayleen Ortega.

Ortega is one of many who fear the implementation of the Compass Learning program is having a negative impact on student learning. They say the program pulls students out of core classes to learn from a computer program.

Students say they have never been disappointed with superintendents before. Ortega says students are constantly fearing for their teachers' jobs. She says many don't even want to go to school anymore.

"He wants to get rid of so many teachers. That is just heartbreaking to us because we love our teachers. And we learn so much from them and we've grown up with them," said Ortega.

Teachers cite concerns of misuse of funds and lack of communication.

They say the stress of an increased workload has physically sent some to the emergency room.

The worst part: the morale of students and teachers alike is at an all-time low, they say.

"We are doing the best jobs we possibly can do and we feel like we are not appreciated. And when you feel like you are not appreciated, you get down on yourself and the students feel it," said Trinidad Middle School teacher Mary Bruce.

Bruce has been with the district for 26 years. She says she has never seen someone paint the district in such a negative light.

"He [Rodriguez] put out in the newspaper when he first got here that our district is 'broken,' and the low scores were all the fault of the teachers. Immediately we felt like we were really stupid and that we couldn't teach, and things got worse as time went on," said Bruce.

Bruce says Rodriguez has also moved teachers around to positions they were not qualified for. She was one of them. She was told she had to move to the new position and take training in that by a certain date, or be fired.

Employees feel there is a target on their back, saying Rodriguez intimidates, threatens and bullies.

"Dr. Rodriguez has been quoted saying, 'Do you hear that knocking on the door? On the other side of the door there are people waiting to take your jobs,'" said concerned community member Bonnie Felthager.

"He said you are either with me or you are out.. He has told us we have no right to put anything on Facebook on our personal Facebook pages. He said if you do, you are fired," said Bruce.

Those in attendance say that worries have been growing since last September. A Facebook page called "Miner Pick" started to voice concerns.

"Read back through the history and we will let you know we are not here to just be bullying this guy, or because we are a bunch of mean people in a small town who just don't want him here. Our district needs somebody who is going to take a proactive role in doing better for our students and community as a whole," said Felthager.

Community and school members fear Rodriguez is making drastic budget cuts. Some cuts, they say, currently are putting 18 teachers' jobs on the line. They tell 11 News many are intimidated into keeping quiet in order to keep their jobs.

Community members formed a committee called the Concerned Parents and Community of Trinidad (CPAC). The group started the petition because they say the superintendent's leadership is taking the district in a direction that can no longer be supported.

"It is not personal in anyway. This is strictly due to effect on education for our students," said CPAC Chairman Kelley Ferdula.

The group hopes to collect 3,000 signatures from parents, students, teachers and community members.

They will present the petition to the school board, calling for Rodriguez's immediate resignation.

11 News was not able to meet up with Rodriguez for an interview. But he says he feels the community's pain. While 11 News was not able to arrange a time to ask him specific questions about the allegations against him, he did provide the following information and attached documents discussing the current status in the district.

"The district’s status is compounded by our expenditures exceeding our revenue on any given month due to the high percentage (80%) of our monthly expenditures directly related to payroll requirements. Also, considerations must be student enrollment, state and local funding, and the total number of full time equivalents (FTE) which, must be aligned in efforts to keep the district budget balanced. Not to overlook the essence of any public school system in the country: student learning and student achievement, which in our district is below the state and federal standards.

Further, regarding the economic downturn in Colorado, and the negative financial impact nationally and internationally has also impacted our fiscal condition in Trinidad; however, our responsibility and obligation remains. It is necessary to focus our efforts on how to keep the district solvent, improving student learning, and student achievement, and maintaining the food service program viable in our efforts to provide daily nutrition to our students. Our Board of Education is facing a difficult decision in their obligation to maintain the district solvent. Unfortunately a major consideration has to be, “How to balance the expenditures with the district’s revenues?” The board members, and I as superintendent, individually and collectively feel the pain of every member in the community because education impacts each one of us, either directly or indirectly."

CPAC listed these following concerns for starting the petition, saying the superintendent has:

-Consistently portrayed a false, negative image of district health and finances that may result in substantial loss of students and staff to other surrounding districts, and negatively impact the community’s efforts to attract new businesses.
- Implemented a computer-based learning system with no teacher or administrative input, inadequate program training and inadequate technology resources.
-Pulled children out of core classes for the online coursework to the detriment of student learning.
-Made unauthorized equipment purchases without seeking board approval or a competitive vendor bidding process
-Proposed unnecessary and extreme budget cuts not in the best interest of community growth

Community members say they fear Rodriguez is not in the job as a service to the students. The group presented research they have done which they believe displays a poor track record.

"He has a history of going in districts and making people so upset with him that they end up buying his contract out and he gets terminated but he goes down the road with a large chunk of money in his pocket," said parent Ron Leef, who believes any funds should go to student education.

For more information about the concerns of the community you can visit the Miner Pick Facebook page.

If you wish to sign the petition call Kelley Ferdula at 719-289-4993.

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