Parents, Students, Staff Up in Arms About Dismissal of Beloved Amador County Principal

JACKSON -- There seems to be no end to the nice things people in Amador County have to say about the former principal of Pioneer Elementary School.

Laurie Carson held that position up until last week.

"She's a truly, truly good principal," said parent Zach Gutzman. "She has the best intentions of the kids and the staff. She's the last one there and the first one there in the morning."

"She always supported us, so now it's my turn to support her," said student Khaleb Huanaco.

A sudden negative performance review from Amador County Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Amy Slavensky ended Carson's 31 years of success and growth in education all across Northern California. She was told her contract would not be renewed. It was her first bad review after five years at Pioneer Elementary.

It's a situation that has inspired outrage in the community and packed a school board meeting with people wearing red in support and speaking up for a professional they respect and love.

In a district struggling to stabilize finances after a critical grand jury report and the need to re-establish the $1.2 million it should have in state-mandated reserves, some thought the forced resignation was all about the budget.

Others, like Carson's husband, say it's about Laurie being willing to speak up for students and staff, even if it contradicted the superintendent.

"Slavensky wanted many things kept hidden and Laurie would tell people what they needed to know," said Doug Carson.

Teachers who worked under Carson and came to the board to demand her return say district administration bullies staff.

"Toe the line or it could be you. This is bigger than Laurie Carson," said Pioneer Elementary teacher Lynn Vasquez. "This is bigger than Pioneer School. This is our entire district and we're all at risk."

In the end, the board did not listen to what parents, student and staff members had to say for almost an hour, leaving them to think about recall efforts and what else comes next.

Amador County is one of seven areas in the state in which the Office of Education only works with one district. In this case, it's the unified school district that includes Pioneer.

With part of the county office's revenue coming from the district, financial troubles there affect the county. They have different superintendents but the same board members serve the district and the county and decide on budgets for both.

"It's frustrating because I'm newly elected and the budget that I inherited is based on this past year from last July to January 30," said Steve Russell, Ph.D., superintendent of the Amador County Office of Education. "And that's the budget that's $109,000 in the hole. It would have been much nicer if I had inherited a budget that had the $540,000 reserve, so I could make decisions based on what my vision for what the county office would be."

County offices of education provide services for districts like special education.

To get back in the black and make up the amount needed for the state-mandated cash reserve, county Superintendent Russell said some positions in direct service to kids will have to be cut.

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