It’s been a rough year for the Rio School District trustees. Actually, it’s been rough for the Rio School District in general for nearly a decade. Since 2003, the district has seen much instability with the turnover of three superintendents, four trustees being voted out, and its share of lawsuits and payouts. The board, which is supposed to focus on education and children, became a highly volatile political circus. Even with four new trustees installed in the last year, mudslinging, stagnation on important decisions and requests for district attorney investigations have divided the group. But the news about the most recent former superintendent should truly put the jobs and responsibilities of the board into perspective with the hope that divisive politics will end.

Former superintendent Sherianne Cotterell was recently arrested for shoplifting nearly $100 worth of cosmetics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Though innocent until proven guilty, Cotterell’s track record doesn’t bode well, even if she is found not guilty, having pleaded no contest to shoplifting at a T.J. Maxx two years earlier and being on probation when arrested again for the same crime(See News, p. 8). Her actions, however, affect more than just her.

At one of the board’s first meetings earlier this year, new trustees Eleanor Torres, who is board president, Henrietta Macias and Ramon Rodriguez voted to terminate Cotterell’s contract 18 months early, later citing students’ poor performance as one reason. Cotterell’s 2009 shoplifting incident had also caused clear division among parents, board members and employees of the district — some said forgive and forget; others said the act was unforgivable for someone serving as a mentor to students. The board majority clearly favored the latter position. Second-term trustee Tim Blaylock voted against termination; new trustee Mike Barber was absent, but didn’t support termination because of the high cost to pay out her contract. The new majority became obvious and the apparent infighting on the board began.

Shortly thereafter, the board majority accused the other two of alleged misdeeds and asked the district attorney to investigate; Barber and Blaylock also asked the district attorney to investigate the other three. Then the majority decided to delay renewing a contract for after-school programs with the Boys and Girls Club until they had more information, despite the fact that the club had been contracted with the district since 2004. Blaylock now says he shouldn’t have signed the most recent contract (2006) due to a potential conflict of interest stemming from his position as chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club. Though Rodriguez said the board would most likely approve the contract renewal when it comes back before the board this October, the general atmosphere appears tense, at best.

Terminating Cotterell’s contract appeared to be the first decision that truly divided the board, but with her recent arrest, the whole dynamic needs to change. Cotterell appealed to the public about her stress levels when she was arrested in 2009, and many supported her, thinking it would was a one-time incident. But it wasn’t. As the old adage goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Cotterell’s recent actions have put Rio in the spotlight again. Had Cotterell been working for the district, the board would have been under major scrutiny as to why she was still employed. Thankfully for the reputation of the board, she wasn’t.

The havoc in the Rio School District should serve as a real eye-opener for board members. Throughout all the chaos, it appears that more attention has been put on self-serving agendas than on those who need it most — the children. The infighting must stop now so the board and the community can move forward.


Let’s talk pot, medical marijuana that is

Ventura’s emergency moratorium banning medical marijuana dispensaries will expire on Sept. 2. With the City Council out on break and not expected to reconvene until Sept. 19, this gives advocates a window of time to try and obtain a business license. Though the city will deny any application for pot dispensaries, at least until the Council can discuss it, it’s time to talk pot. 

In Fall 2009, the City Council enacted a 10-month emergency moratorium but told city staff to study the issue, hold public meetings and study alternatives, including possible land-use language that would allow cooperatives and collectives in certain parts of town. Well, it’s been almost two years since the Council ordered staff to look into how the city might be more accommodating to those seeking medical marijuana, and we haven’t heard much about it since, other than the city extending the moratorium.

While we fully understand the potential criminal element associated with pot dispensaries — an element that law enforcement restates regularly — and that there is evidence of teenagers smoking medical marijuana in cities that have dispensaries, there are also some positive aspects to it. First and foremost, patients won’t have to travel to other counties to get their medicine. Second, it is possible that those who are getting pot illegally now may just decide to go to the dispensary instead and do it legally for their apparent migraines and back pain. Third, money won’t be spent elsewhere for a product we now have. We could go on, but the list is long.

Though we aren’t necessarily advocating for one decision or another, it is now time to see the Council discuss the pros and cons of having dispensaries here rather than simply assuming the worst-case scenario and extending the moratorium. With the City Council election on the horizon, it would be a good time to start picking the minds of potential council members to see where they stand on the issue. Let’s hope we will get a clearer picture of the good and the bad and find a compromise in between.