Tuesday, September 18, 2012

LAUSD employee vows to care for animals

Alma Bruhnke leads a goat at the San Pedro Science Center.

LAUSD Promises To Begin Searching for an Organization to Take Over the Science Center Amid Rumors and Upset

By Diana L. Chapman

   While school officials are scrambling to find an outside operator for the science center, one Los Angeles School District employee at the site vowed she will not leave until she has guarantees that the animals are safe and well cared for.
   Nanette Roeland, who has nurtured, fed and cleaned up after about 250 animals at the facility for the past eleven years, said the public should not fear that for the animal's safety because they are "my family" and school officials understand the popularity of the livestock  and will not hurt them.
   "I will not leave," said Roeland who volunteered for the first three years before the district hired her as a technician and charged her with the animal care. "I will be here every day. I have been with them for so long. They (school officials) won't sell them or give them away. I will not let them hurt the animals. The animals are innocent. It's sad. It's nerve wracking.
   "But I understand they (school officials) are doing what they have to do."
   Roeland is one of a handful of employees at the San Pedro Science Center who learned last week that the  center had fallen victim to a long line of excruciating budget cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District. District officials said they will be searching for a non-profit or another organization to manage the site as a way to keep its doors open.
   Roeland, who one administrator said works 18 hours a day, added that school officials understand the love the community has for the animals at the center, such as Ophelia, the sow, and Peaches, a Shetland pony, and will ensure their care. The center also houses a myriad of ducks, geese, albino squirrels and goats.
   In a surprise move  that took many off guard last week, Director John Zavalney was given two weeks to pack up and move to another post within the district and the three technicians were expected to be moved to the Granada Hills Science Center.
   The decision shocked  many who supported the Science Center, which opened up as the Weymouth Science Center in 1927. The property will remain in the hands of LAUSD, confirmed Chris Torres, chief of staff for school board member Richard Vladovic, but another agency will run it.
  "I was blindsided," said Diana Nave, president of the North West San Pedro Neighborhood Council in San Pedro. "This is a real jewel for our community. How can they close it with so little notice? It will take time and may be a real challenge for any potential operator to put together the funds required. What is the plan for taking care of the plants and animals in the meantime?
  "This is such a sad day when we lack funds for such a great program."
   Nave added that she put the center on the agenda for the council's next meeting and hopes to get answers from the district.
   Board member  Vladovic, who has fought to keep the site open over the past five years, asked  the district to prevent the center's closure.
   "When I was recently informed by the Office of Instruction that there were no more funds to keep the center open, I told them that we must find any funding source possible to save the center," Vladovic said in a released statement. "Whether money or resources come from grants, non-profits, private donors, I will continue to work to make sure that the center remains open to our schools and community.
   "By being the only center of its kind to be open in all of LAUSD, it is not only a jewel for San Pedro, it's a jewel for the whole district."
   In the meantime, LAUSD will send out requests for proposals to find an organization, a non-profit or sponsors to keep the doors open, Torres said.
   Part of the problem, he added, was that the annual budget for the center runs about  $350,000 to $400,000 a year -- with about one-third of it going to the director.
   While employees were asked to keep the issue quiet, the news was so astonishing that newspapers immediately snapped it up and residents want to know the center's future.
   One LAUSD official told the employees that they need to make, whoever may come in to fill the void, comfortable.
   "As you are moving on, one thing we want to make sure is happening for the center is to continue to provide our students with the same educational opportunity in experiencing nature, and we want all to continue to feel welcomed and appreciated at the center after your departure," wrote Ayham Dahi, who works for the district as the coordinator of secondary science.
   "That is why I am directing you to refrain from giving out any information about the  future of the center, information that might be based on speculations and not facts, information that might carry any negative tone about the new occupants of the center."
   No matter what happens, center volunteer Ralph Galante hopes he can continue his work there.
   "I use to go there as a kid," Galante said. "I volunteered to help out. I love it down there. It's a lot of fun."