Removal of CHS booster group results in new officers, leaving lots of questions

After a special meeting in which new officers were elected, the Class of 2017 boosters are ready to move forward, continuing with their efforts to raise money for their kids’ upcoming graduation night.

Some hard feelings and a lot of questions remain, however.

The move to nominate and approve a new slate of officers comes after the removal of some of the volunteer group’s previous officers by the Claremont Parent Faculty Association (CPFA).

The CPFA board has ousted three members of the Class of 2017 booster organization: president Corrina Comia, vice president Ginalee Allen and secretary Tina Huey. The booster group’s treasurer Ivana Garcia recently stepped down voluntarily from her post and is now serving as treasurer for the Claremont High School PFA.

CPFA President Marcia Rodgers has cited “irregularities” evidenced by the officers during a Valentine’s Day dinner/dance fundraiser as the reason for the women’s removal. Chief among these is their use of a credit card swiper for guests who wanted to buy booster swag, which according to Ms. Rodgers is against booster bylaws.

“Rules were broken,” she asserted at the meeting. “That puts all of the groups in jeopardy.”

Ms. Comia and Ms. Allen maintain that they got the swiper on the advice of CPFA vice president Julie Pedroza. Ms. Pedroza was not present at Wednesday evening’s meeting, which drew about 25 attendees, nor has the COURIER contacted her regarding this matter. They also say they have documentation showing that former treasurer Patty Caro signed for the swiper, so they wonder why they have been singled out for blame.

What’s more, the ousted officers say Ms. Rodgers, who has served as CPFA president since 2006, has broken rules of her own by not following what they say is a state-mandated 4-year term limit for officers of a California Corporation. They have likewise questioned whether Ms. Rodgers’ lengthy term might not violate CPFA bylaws.

They have no way of being sure at this time, Ms. Allen said, because the CPFA has not handed out its bylaws to the booster group as a whole. Ms. Allen says she was given a copy of the bylaws by Tammy Desalvo, who is in charge of insurance issues for the CPFA. However, she says the second of the nine pages, which presumably would have detailed whether or not there are term limits, was missing.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, Ms. Rodgers maintained that there are no term limits in CPFA bylaws.

 

Tensions running high

The conflict between the CPFA and the former Class of 2017 booster officers has been brewing for some time, according to Ms. Comia. Things came to a head on April 13 when she, Ms. Allen and Ms. Huey received an email from Ms. Rodgers, sent on behalf of the Subcommittee of the Claremont Parent Faculty Association.

In her missive, Ms. Rodgers relayed a decision made at the subcommittee’s April 3 meeting, which she noted was attended by CPFA legal counsel. The women were asked to step down from their posts immediately and return all booster club property and accounting materials to CPFA Vice President Holly Stott within two days. She also informed the CSH parents that they “may not hold any other office or board position within the Claremont Parent Faculty Association or its affiliates or subsidiaries through the end of the 2014-2015 school year.”

The CPFA is a nonprofit group that serves as an umbrella for the Parent Faculty Associations of every school in the Claremont Unified School District. Every booster group within the district also falls within the group’s purview. So Ms. Rodgers and Ms. Allen have effectively been told that they may not volunteer in any capacity for any CUSD group.

Ms. Allen, who calls her dismissal a “witch hunt,” has a son who is a freshman at CHS. Currently the treasurer of the swim team boosters, she has no plans to step down because she doesn’t believe the CPFA has the right to demand her resignation given that she’s been fulfilling her duties conscientiously.

Wednesday’s meeting was rife with tension, giving credence to Ms. Allen’s assertion that the CPFA executive board is like “The Real Housewives of Claremont.”

An uncomfortable silence pervaded the room for 10 minutes while attendees were asked to read the minutes of the previous meeting in preparation to approve the record. And despite Ms. Rodgers’ attempts to keep everyone on track with what she said was the purpose of the meeting, the formation of a new Class of 2017 booster board, guests expressed a number of concerns before agreeing to approve the minutes. A few boosters expressed consternation about the process through which Ms. Comia and Ms. Allen were removed.

“I just don’t understand how you guys, as an executive committee, can sit on a subcommittee,” booster MikeAnn Konop said. “Where’s the bias?”

Amy Weiler said it particularly bothered her that the subcommittee didn’t take the time to listen to the former officers’ explanation of their actions.

“How can directions be given to a subcommittee when you didn’t hear the other side?” she wondered. “I still don’t understand how [Ms. Allen and Ms. Comia] broke the rules. Did you talk to more than one person?”

The Valentine’s Day fundraiser yielded $2,500 in apparel sales alone, helping to move the boosters along nicely toward their ultimate $100,000 goal. To Ms. Weiler’s way of thinking, the healthy take and the cordial, festive atmosphere constituted a successful fundraiser.

“They seemed to do everything right,” she said.

Ms. Rodgers reminded Ms. Weiler that the current order of business was to approve the minutes of an April 16 meeting, whose purpose had been to nominate new officers for the Class of 2017 booster group. No one had expressed an interest at serving on the booster board at that particular gathering. She also emphasized that Ms. Comia and Ms. Allen had committed further infractions, to which boosters were not privy.

“It’s confidential. We liken it to a personnel issue,” she said. “Because of the violations, we didn’t want to divulge all of that, so they can continue to volunteer and maintain their dignity,” Ms. Rodgers said.

Ms. Allen and Ms. Comia, who were in attendance at the meeting, say the only allegations they are aware of are the ones made public. Ms. Rodgers, by contrast, says the women are well aware of their misdeeds and that the CPFA has spent sufficient time explaining why the ranks of the 2017 booster club need to be changed.

Ms. Allen and Ms. Comia say they are angry, confused and filled with questions about the CPFA, which they feel has no accountability. Both CHS Principal Brett O’Connor and CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser have expressed that, given the nature of the CPFA, there is little they can do to intervene with its activities, providing its members are doing nothing illegal.

Two guests at the meeting, CHS parents Kim Mitchell and Kelly Carson, share the frustration felt by Ms. Allen and Ms. Comia. In 2011, they say they were removed as officers on the Wolfgang hip hop team boosters. Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Carson were serving as treasurer and president, respectively.

They say their removal came after they made complaints about CHS personnel involved in the direction of the dance troupe, charges that resulted in the resignation of the parties involved. They assert that the other officers in the Wolfgang booster organization said they were given permission to oust their treasurer and vice president by Ms. Rodgers. Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Carson say they were told they had to go because they refused to move on from the drama.

Mark Carson spoke up, saying that what happened to the Class of 2017 booster board was a repeat of what had happened to his wife and Ms. Mitchell. Ms. Rodgers reminded the group once more that the meeting was about moving forward with a new board.

“We want this to be a peaceful meeting,” she said. “I don’t want to argue with you.”

Ms. Allen’s husband, Marc, also came to the meeting. He was not just there to support his wife. As a CHS parent, Mr. Allen said he has a vested interest in the district’s volunteer groups. The meeting reinforced his belief that the CPFA is an unhealthy organization.

“It’s just more of the smoke and mirrors and lack of transparency that plagues the school,” he said.

One 2017 booster member, Laurie Haney LoBocchiaro, also expressed frustration at the overall organization and business practices of the Claremont Parent Faculty Association.

“In my opinion, CPFA needs to go away. I would feel much better with the national PTA structure than the current leadership group,” she said. “No one knows when the meetings are. No one knows how the elections are handled or how to be nominated. They seem arbitrary and punitive.”

Class of 2017 boosters eventually approved the minutes of the previous meeting and went on to nominate and approve Ms. Konop as their new president and Ms. Weiler as their new vice president as well as selecting a new treasurer and secretary.

Several Class of 2017 boosters stressed that they would like to see the new officers mentored more fully and with less misinformation.

“I would hope the recent nominees receive training and all support procedures necessary, so they don’t end up in the same situation as the other group,” booster Cynthia McGwire said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Ms. Stott expressed relief that the booster group had accomplished the purpose of the meeting: “I’m glad you got a board. I was afraid you weren’t going to be able to fundraise until next September.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Rodgers maintains that the CPFA subcommittee did what it had to do.

“It’s not like we were looking for concerns. They came to us,” Ms. Rodgers said. “And we kept having concerns…and [the officers] were not responsive to redirection. What do you do when you redirect and no one listens?”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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