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Huge Support Ends RLA Dismissal Rumors
Riverbank Language Academy's principal Dr. David Austin got a huge show of support from children and parents at both the Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) meeting on April 17 and the RLA board meeting the following night.

Several children speaking on his behalf before the RUSD broke into tears and wept at the podium while some adults spoke with frequent stops to regain their composure. The scene was repeated the following night but with less emotion.

It remained debatable whether public reaction against rumors of possible board action to dismiss him achieved anything beyond a show of support - or in fact whether any board members at any time had any notion of letting him go.

The RLA board's posted agenda listed a closed session on personnel in accordance with Section 5495 concerning public employees. But District Business Manager Karolyn Crisp opened the meeting by saying that item did not have enough detail on the purpose or person for discussion to meet Brown Act requirements and should be removed from the agenda.

Board President Mark Ensley at once complied and the item was stricken from the agenda. He went on to say, however, that periodic evaluations of district staff are a necessary and routine part of administration and concern the integrity of the position not any one person.

"I apologize," Ensley said. "I am astonished and horrified this got out that somebody would be fired. We will not do evaluations tonight. I appreciate you all coming. I hope you will attend future meetings."

Both meetings were packed with people forced to stand along the walls and in the entrance hall of the school district building. Both RUSD president Elizabeth Meza and RLA chairman Ensley took public comment on the issue.

"I just want to know why you want to get rid of Dr. Austin. What did he do wrong?" asked one student in a long line of speakers at the RUSD meeting.

"He's very respectful, a real gentleman," said another. "He goes from class to class, stays and talks to us. Ever since he came, school has been better. The kids have learned more. We never had this kind of principal before. I really look up to him."

Presenting to the RLA board 200 signatures in favor of Austin, parent Maile Araceli Delgado expressed her gratitude for Austin, said he had a great career behind him and noted he had done many good things here in just the three months since he arrived.

While they could not be present during evaluations, they have a right to state their support of staff members at board meetings, said another parent.

At the RUSD meeting, there was disagreement on whether the RLA board could make decisions, including those on personnel, on its own, or could only advise the RUSD board.

County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon, who was present in the audience, said that depended on whether it was a dependent or independent charter school and they must examine the memorandum of agreement made at the time of its charter. Austin said Thursday he understands the RLA is a dependent charter school and needs approval by the RUSD for final approval even on personnel. Meza said Tuesday the RUSD for years had allowed the RLA to make its own decisions and had not countered them.