Passions flared Wednesday at a packed Vallejo school board meeting as some voiced their opinions on the Vallejo High School mascot while others demanded a fair raise for the district's unions.

"If we want to honor (native people), put them in our history books. Put them up in our classrooms, but don't sit there and use them as a rallying cry for fun and games," said Kathi Hill of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about Vallejo High School's Apache mascot.

The decades-old mascot, along with the debate surrounding its possible removal, resurfaced last month when school board President Hazel Wilson asked Principal Clarence Isadore to report on what the school was doing surrounding changing the mascot.

Isadore had said he was in the preliminary research stage of the issue, and the mascot was not on Wednesday's light meeting agenda. But that did not stop a vocal protest by indigenous rights groups, who played drums outside the meeting and whose members spoke at length as to why the mascot should be retired.

"I had little or no knowledge of my indigenous identity. I graduated (from Napa) High School barely even knowing how to speak my language or sign my language. I was even told by a history teacher that all Native Americans were dead and gone. This was a school where an Indian was a mascot," said Jesse Johnson of his school's mascot, the Napa High Indians.

Johnson said he internalized that idea, and did not rediscover his heritage until he pursued higher education, earning a doctorate in language, reading and culture.

"This county is named after Chief Solano of the Patwin Nation. ... We have indigenous names all across the streets of Vallejo. That's honoring indigenous people. Mascots are not honoring us. I am not a mascot, and I am not dead. I'm here, alive, in the present," Johnson continued.

Meanwhile, former Vallejo High Athletic Director Jack Renfro, himself an alumnus of the school, defended the mascot.

"I look at it a different way. I look at the mascot as we're honoring the Apache. We feel pride in being Apache," Renfro said.

Also not on the agenda, but occupying nearly equal time during the meeting public comment section, were several classified employees who spoke of the need for raises and the hardships they've had to endure as health care and other costs continue to rise. Several handed out their pay stubs from different years to show how much less money they are taking home.

Ken Anderson, head custodian at Wardlaw Elementary, was last year named the district and county's classified employee of the year.

"One year later, I'm looking for another job. It's nothing against this district. I love this district. ... I cannot afford to work here anymore," Anderson said.

The Vallejo City Unified School District is negotiating new contracts with both teachers and classified employees. Classified employees in particular have been vocal the last several meetings.

"It's been going on for nine years. We're tired. We worked hard . We sacrificed," support staff person Lorraine McDonald said, adding that it was time the district gave back to their workers.

Contact Lanz Christian Bañes at (707) 553-6833 or lbanes@timesheraldonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @LanzCBanes.

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©2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)

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