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Teacher’s union president non-renewed; claims retaliation

GANADO

The Ganado Unified School District’s governing board on March 6 did not renew the contract of 5th-grade teacher Vanessa Begay, the president of the Ganado Education Association.

During the call to the public at the board’s regular meeting, Begay presented the board with a stack of support letters from parents and told them she hadn’t been given a reason for the non-renewal. “I believe the non-renewal was retaliatory,” she said, citing instances when she had come before the board advocating for teachers, staff and students.

She added that she had been rated “highly effective” by her supervisor, and was surprised to receive a letter Feb. 21 informing her that her principal and the acting superintendent were recommending her contract not be renewed for next school year.

Greg McQuade, the Arizona Education Association’s consultant for bargaining and advocacy, appeared at the meeting in support of Begay. “I’ve represented dozens of associations,” McQuade told the board, “and it’s very uncommon to see highly effective teachers non-renewed,” especially in this time of teacher shortages.

He also stood up for Leanne Kinlichee, another union member whose contract will end at the end of the current school year, calling both Kinlichee and Begay “wonderful teachers (who) put their students first, put their colleagues first, put the community members first.”

The union representative also questioned why the board had set the meeting at 9 a.m. on a weekday, when Kinlichee and other faculty and staff couldn’t be there because they were working. Begay said she took personal leave to attend the meeting and contest the non-renewal.

After Begay complained of not knowing why her contract was being terminated and asked that the discussion about her situation be open to the public, the board went into executive session with its attorney on the phone and came back in an hour with three reasons: “failure to work cooperatively with parents, failure to work cooperatively with the administration and surreptitiously recording an IEP (individual education plan) meeting.”

The board voted four to one, the lone dissenting vote being that of Marcarlo Roanhorse, to non-renew Begay’s contract. Begay argued after the meeting that the board’s justifications were vague and unsubstantiated. “The state statute says I need valid reasons, I need specific reasons,” she said. “They’re not giving me any specific incidents. If anything happened, they never talked to me about it or tried to help me resolve it.”

Begay said she did have one conflict with a parent, but for the most part, she gets along well with her students’ parents and the support letters prove it. The recording, she said, was not of an IEP meeting and was done for her own protection.

She said she couldn’t elaborate without compromising a family’s privacy. “I do record the board meetings, which they don’t seem to like,” she said. “Maybe they just lumped the whole recording thing together.”

As for being able to work with the administration, she said she worked fine with the previous superintendent, Claudia Edgewater-Russell, who was hired in July and placed on administrative leave during the school year. “We (union members) talked with Claudia all the time,” she said. “Since Betsy Dobias took over as acting superintendent, it felt like the door slammed in our face.”

McQuade said outside of the meeting that he had been working with Begay on a number of issues, the most serious of which was trying to get the board to approve a five percent pay raise for teachers for which the state had already allocated funding and the superintendent had requested several times to be put on the agenda.

“We told the board how to access that money and they just never did it,” said McQuade. “During one meeting, some people started yelling, ‘Recall!’. I think that’s when the board started to turn on Vanessa.”

Begay said she hasn’t decided whether to take legal action to appeal the non-renewal. Her decision, she said, will be based on what’s best for the school and the community.

“I could find a different district,” said Begay, who worked at Chinle and Window Rock before coming to Ganado. “I deserve a district that will respect me. I deserve a district that will give me the compensation that was approved for me.

“But the other teachers keep telling me, ‘Something has to be done,’” she said. “I’m annoyed that they (the board) are not following the law, and I’m annoyed that they’re getting away with it. I really hope the best for this place, and if that means staying and fighting, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Board clerk Teresa Sells-Gorman did not return a Facebook message asking for comment.



About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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