Oxnard School District trustees narrowly voted on Dec. 15 not to lay off all 141 of the district’s campus aides right before Christmas, instead making them regular staff with benefits.

The 3-2 vote came after hours of heated comments by aides who packed the school board’s meeting room along with supporters, earlier mounting a protest rally in front of the building.

Veronica Robles-Solis, Monica Madrigal Lopez and Denis O’Leary voted against the layoffs; Debra Cordes and Jesus Vega voted in favor of them.

“I’m disappointed, this was discussed in front of me, but I didn’t know the other side of the story,” said O’Leary. “I shouldn’t have had to wait until the public came forward.”

The vote means that in January the district’s campus aides will become California School Employees Association (CSEA) members with the same benefits as teachers and other staff represented by the union.

Until now aides have been classified at-will employees without benefits. A recently passed state law forced OSD to consider grandfathering aides into its contract with CSEA or laying them off.

Assistant Superintendent Jesus Vaca recommended the board approve the layoffs and sent letters to campus aides letting them know their jobs would be eliminated on Dec. 15.

The aides could have reapplied in January, but with no guarantee of being rehired. Vaca planned to let the public apply for the jobs, which would also have paid less than now.

“And it’s not like it’s 50 cents, it’s dollars,” per hour difference in pay, said a campus assistant who added she was facing the loss of 25 years of seniority. “People are going to be in a bind.”

Speaking at the rally before the meeting, the aide, who asked not to be named, said that when Vaca met with them he said layoffs would be “more convenient” than grandfathering them in.

At the school board meeting Vaca said that’s because there are going to be fewer campus assistant jobs in January than now due to new schedules.
“To place these folks is gonna be very difficult, because we cannot roll them over into positions that didn’t exist,” Vaca said.

But campus assistants repeatedly told trustees that their jobs are not only important to children’s health and safety, but to the families depending on them.

“We all have bills, we all have responsibilities, I myself am the breadwinner for an elderly mother of 86 years,” said Yazmin Gomez, adding that she has been a coach, nurse and counselor to children.

“We’re more than just yard duties. We are the front-liners of the district, because we’re there in battle every day for these kids,” Gomez continued to applause. “If anything would go wrong, the first ones that would go down is us.”

CSEA Vice President Efrain Cazares said OSD was misinterpreting Assembly Bill 2160, the recently passed state law that prompted Vaca to recommend layoffs.

“The change to the education code was to benefit these people, not lay them off,” said Cazares, adding that campus aides are important liaisons between the community and the school district.

Community leaders and activists, including Daniel Chavez, A.J. Valenzuela and Francine Castanon, were among the speakers against the layoffs.

The meeting also drew attention from elected officials, with City Councilman Bert Perello and a representative of State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s office also attending the meeting.

O’Leary said later that State Superintendent-elect Tony Thurman, who wrote AB-2160, even called OSD Superintendent Cesar Morales after the meeting to clarify the intent of the law.

Morales said in a Thursday email to trustees that administrators will meet with campus assistants and union leaders to work out the details of grandfathering in campus assistants.

“There is no doubt about it, our campus assistants have always been and will continue to be valuable contributors in the operation of a school and in being difference makers in the lives of our students and community,” Morales wrote.

“I understand this time has been full of anxiety and unknown elements associated with the transition for our campus assistants,” Morales continued. “Please join me in reminding our campus assistants of how valuable they are to the OSD family.”