By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"It's almost like saying, 'Well, you were my paper boy once,'" he says. "The campaign was long ago."
But the long-ago campaign is central to questions arising from the recent dispute. It dates back to early March, when the district's central textbook committee presented trustees with its recommendations for new textbooks for languages, science, social studies, physical education, fine arts, and multilingual-multicultural disciplines.
At the March meeting, the trustees accepted all of the panel's recommendations on which books to purchase--except those for social studies and multilingual-multicultural disciplines. Ewell seconded a motion by board member Jose Plata that split those areas off from the rest of the book list.
Ewell says she was concerned about the multicultural content of the social studies books from Harcourt Brace that the committee had recommended.
The book list was sent back to the central textbook committee with instructions that it bring back another recommendation. But the textbook committee decided to resubmit its original list, endorsing the Harcourt books. Dr. Janet Skinner, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction and chair of the committee, says the group felt strongly that its recommendations were correct.
Teachers and administrators from all affected schools had a chance to review and vote on the books, Skinner explains. Additionally, anyone else interested could have reviewed the books and discussed them at several meetings that were held throughout the district late last year. The books selected by the committee were the ones that the teachers wanted, she says.
But Ewell contends that the committee and teachers were all wrong. So she stepped in and moved to have at least part of the social studies book contract awarded to McMillan.
Ewell says she hasn't championed McMillan books but clearly both her former campaign manager and his wife have. Robert and Charmaine Price are both members of the African-American Advisory Committee, which makes suggestions on issues to board members. Robert Price, in fact, is president of that committee, which decided to endorse the books published by Price's wife's employer. While Charmaine Price did not participate in any of the discussions or voting on the recommendation, Robert Price did. Robert Price, though, says he didn't vote and "didn't encourage or influence anybody how to vote."
He did, however, present the committee's recommendation to the school board at a special meeting on the textbook issue April 17. It was at this meeting that Ewell presented a resolution that called for splitting the social studies textbook buy among four companies, including Harcourt Brace and McMillan/McGraw-Hill. The resolution passed 4-3, with board president Bill Keever abstaining from the vote and board member Roxan Staff listening to the meeting via phone.
Price has been involved in all of Ewell's school board runs. He proudly points out that he was the one who encouraged her to run in the first place. He has a genuine affection for Ewell. But that affection, he says, does not extend to influencing her.
"She looked at the books and made up her own mind," he says.
Charmaine Price was recruited as a per diem consultant for McMillan/McGraw-Hill in November, shortly after she completed her stint as a member of the state textbook selection committee. As a per diem consultant, she assists company representatives in their presentations to schools throughout the district. She too spoke on behalf of the McMillan/McGraw-Hill books at the April 17 meeting.
Ewell says that calls of conflict are hiding the real issue--race. She says that because she is black and that the people "who made this decision were black and brown," she is now being challenged and questioned. Never mind the fact that the teachers who selected the books were from all races, or that the central textbook adoption committee was evenly divided among the district's three major racial groups.
"The white majority is accustomed to having its way about everything," she says.
But couldn't her relationship with the Prices give the appearance of a conflict? Shouldn't she have checked? No, Ewell says. "The appearance is their [her critics'] prerogative," she says.