New superintendent: On settling in, board direction and contract battles

Creswell is in the middle of his first dogfight.

by Rebecca Wicks

David Creswell, the new superintendent of Ventura Unified School District has been in Ventura for less than three months. The Long Beach native is renting a house with an eye on buying, and has already gotten involved with the local botanical gardens and museum. He and his wife are by his accounts currently “eating their way across Ventura,” trying as many restaurants as they can. They are enjoying what most Venturans do here including surfing, biking and walks on the beach.

“It’s been fantastic, my wife and I thoroughly enjoy the community which has been incredibly welcoming,” said Creswell of his first few months in Ventura. “The reception has been amazing … the community is so involved, and there are so many opportunities to embrace what is going on here.”

On the work front, Creswell has visited most of the school campuses and is equally impressed with what he has witnessed.

“There is a great culture focused on students, and so many areas are already above par,” said Creswell who cited programs such as the district’s dual immersion and magnet programs that focus on language, leadership, science and technology. “What is already in place, what is already being offered, it’s impressive.”

According to Creswell he is focused on two categories of activities. The first is to ascertain and manage Board of Education directives. The Board is currently accessing and prioritizing its objectives, which he expects will eventually number between three and five. These objectives are expected to drive where spending and programming will be directed.

The second area Creswell plans on working on is more personal in nature and revolves around the culture of the district. Creswell understands there is a divide between the district office and the sites, or schools, and believes there is an opportunity to work with district leadership to communicate and devise a way to all work together.

“We all know what we need to do, there is no question about that … it’s how we are treating each other, how we conduct business that is important to me,” said Creswell. “I want to work to assess what we have, and then define where we’d like to be.”

Creswell’s initial relationship building abilities are now being put to the test . About 50 days into the job of superintendent Creswell is in the middle of his first dogfight. The district and the teacher and support staff unions have hit an impasse. The topic: salary increases. It has now been determined a third-party will be brought in to mediate the discussion. It’s not new territory for Creswell who downplays the severity of the entrance of an intermediary, which comes after more than 5 months of failed negotiation between the parties.

“Would we like to have it settled, of course, but this is simply the next step in a multistep process,” said Creswell who believes the discussion will sort itself out. “The issue is fairly straightforward, we can only use money that we have.”

The Ventura Unified Education Association and the Ventura Education Support Professionals Association, which represent teachers and staff members respectively, have asked for a one-time retroactive bonus for 2016-2017 of two percent of the employee’s current salary. This is in addition to a two percent salary increase for the 2017-2018 school year.

The reply, the district has offered a 2.25 percent retroactive increase for 2016-2017 and a one percent salary raise for 2017-2018. Both include a clause that negotiations could be restarted if specific events occur for example, if the district receives additional unrestricted revenues during a school year.

In a board meeting in early October, more than 175 teachers and support staff members were present to voice their support and need for the increases proposed by the unions. Many were upset the board did not seem willing to move further when it came to negotiations.

“The district and the community continually state education is important,” said a grade-school teacher who asked not to be named. “Now it’s time for the district to actually prove they believe this.”

Creswell remained positive and confident about the situation.

“We want everyone to remain calm and ultimately aim to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” said Creswell. “Working through this process may be in the end, an opportunity to build the relationships and culture we need.”

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