The termination of veteran school bus driver Gilbert Quiroga has continued to draw support from community members who have attempted to speak on his behalf at the past three meetings of the school governing board.
At a board meeting on June 12, shortly after his termination, many residents were present, and several spoke on his behalf during the “call to the public,” including retired bus driver Patricia Matrecito and fellow Patagonia Town Council member Andrea Wood. Some questioned the motive behind his termination. David Woods told the board, “I believe if his contract is not renewed then it should be made public why with a just cause, and I do not believe one exists.” Felix Wharton, a student at PUHS, said that “if Quiroga leaves it will build even more distrust between students and faculty.”
The audience was told that the board couldn’t discuss the issue, as it was not on the meeting’s agenda, and said they would include it for their meeting on June 25. However, the meeting on that date did not include Quiroga’s termination as an agenda item. Many supporters again filled the room, and Quiroga spoke to the board.
He told them that in September 2012, he discovered that a large number of school property items were being taken from the school site by the school’s maintenance supervisor, Tony Velasquez. He reported the activity to his immediate supervisor, but nothing was done. Quiroga then decided to document the activity by taking photographs. He said that when School Superintendent/Principal Denise Blake learned what he’d done, she asked him to turn over the photos to her. He refused.
For his refusal to comply, he was docked one day of work. Quiroga said that three weeks after that, he observed that some trees that provide shade for the tennis court had been severely pruned. He complained about it to a school board member and was called in shortly thereafter to meet with Blake, who docked him for five days without pay.
After Quiroga finished speaking, many people from the community came forward to attest to his longstanding record as a responsible employee. Again, several of those who spoke expressed their belief that Quiroga was being punished for trying to protect the school’s interests. Patricia Matrecito told the board that to discipline Quiroga for his actions was “pathetic.” She described Superintendent Blake as a supervisor who “yells, screams, threatens” and said that the school was experiencing high teacher turnover “because of the way she treats her employees.”
Patagonia resident Jeff Hifey asked the board whether a police report had been filed when Velasquez was fired five months later for alleged misuse of a school district credit card and theft of a set of new tires. Due to the strong community sentiment about the termination, the board agreed to include the subject on the agenda at the following meeting on July 12.
However, when the meeting on July 12 was called to order, Quiroga’s termination was once again not on the agenda, and the meeting was again attended by many community members.
Seven of them were permitted to speak briefly. Superintendent/Principal Blake sat at a table in front, showing no emotion as Richard Rutledge said that in all his years as a government supervisor, he “never fired someone because they disagreed with me.” Jeff Hifey told the board they “should be firing her [Blake] instead of Quiroga.” At none of the meetings did the board discuss the issue.
Superintendent Blake has said that Quiroga’s contract was not renewed in part because he failed to comply with her written directives to him. She was quoted by The Bulletin as having commented that on four different occasions he didn’t respect board policy by following the chain of command and instead took matters into his own hands.
Quiroga, who had worked as a bus driver at the school for nearly 37 years, has retained legal counsel.