Lawyer says trustees rejected attempts to mediate
Rumor became reality Wednesday evening when Madera Unified School District trustees took away Superintendent Ed Gonzalez’ school keys, his cell phone, and his job after a standing-room-only crowd had made impassioned pleas to keep him at the helm of the school district.
According to Barry Bennett, Gonzalez’ attorney, the board fired the superintendent in spite of his overtures to some trustees this week for mediation.
Speculation had been running rife as to how long Gonzalez could remain superintendent after he was told on Feb. 3, by Board President Al Galvez and Trustee Ricardo Arredondo that the board was going to terminate him and wanted to negotiate the terms of his departure.
Board members remained mum on the matter, but on Feb. 6, Gonzalez informed the district administrative staff of the trustees’ intent. Before nightfall, the news appeared on social media and had become the talk of the town. By the next day, the commercial media carried the story.
Gonzalez engaged the services of Bennett, a Fresno lawyer, who supplied the Tribune with copies of the board’s evaluation of Gonzalez, which centered on the superintendent’s alleged refusal to submit to its authority.
On Wednesday, more than 100 people crowded the boardroom and the adjacent hallways, and 12 of the 13 individuals who spoke expressed their support for Gonzalez and some chastised the trustees.
Retired Madera administrator Joe Vivid, insisted “as citizens and taxpayers we have the right to know why (Gonzalez was being released).” He reminded the board, “A house divided against itself cannot stand, and he implored the audience to “trust but verify.”
Ron Manfredi, retired city manager of Kerman and longtime member of the State Center Community College District board, told the board, “The situation that has been created is due to the behavior of the board and not the superintendent. Right now there is no reason for the community to trust this board.”
Another speaker said, “I have been here since 1988, and for the first time, I am embarrassed to be a Maderan. If you don’t think a recall can happen, ask the three former board members from Golden Valley who fired their superintendent.
One speaker, a school district employee, said Gonzalez does a good job, but could not do so without the staff. She said the staff is not given enough credit and indicated she would support the board in whatever decision it made.
After 30 minutes of individual admonitions, Galvez ended the public comment, and the board went into closed session without Gonzalez.
In the meantime, the superintendent was deluged with hugs and handshakes from bevies of supporters who remained with him to await the return of the board into open session.
After about 1 1/2 hours in executive session, the board took Gonzalez into the closed meeting. When trustees returned 15 minutes later, Gonzalez was not with them.
With no one sitting in the superintendent’s chair, Galvez opened the public session. Following the education code, the board president announced that a vote had been taken in closed session to terminate Gonzalez, without cause. Galvez said the vote was unanimous, 7-0.
In a telephone interview with the Tribune, Bennett, said the board took Gonzalez’ keys and district cell phone and informed him that he had been terminated without cause. According to Bennett, this will cost the district $350,000 plus the cost of hiring a new superintendent.
Bennett said Gonzalez was surprised by the action since he had made more than one overture to members of the board to search for someone that would help them work on the superintendent/board relationship. The attorney said Gonzalez was “taking it hard.”
In an interview with the Tribune on Thursday, Gonzalez said, “I am thankful for the 28 years I spent in Madera, the many, many wonderful friends and colleagues, and especially the amazing students who have changed my life. It was all worth it.”
Galvez issued the following statement on Thursday. regarding Gonzalez’ termination “As reported out following the Governing Board’s closed session meeting on Feb. 15, 2017, the Board voted unanimously to terminate the Superintendent without cause. Because this is a personnel matter, and in respecting employee privacy rights, the Board is limited in what information can be released.
As has been reported in the media, it is no secret that the relationship between the Superintendent and the Board has been strained and that there have been disagreements occurring for some time. Ultimately, it is important for the Board and Superintendent to be on the same page. In this case, there were irreconcilable differences, and the board felt that it was in the best interest of the District to move in a different direction.”
David Holder, Madera Unified Teachers Association president, and Amanda Wade, MUTA vice president, advised their members to stay clear of the fray. They issued the following statement: “Out of respect for the CA Ed Code legal procedure and the professional/personal input of Supt. Gonzalez, the MUSD board of trustees, and our Madera community, we felt that the interests and wishes expressed by the above individuals would be honored out of respect for the process and all parties involved.
It is not clear how the board will proceed in replacing Gonzalez. After Wednesday’s meeting, Galvez said under the structure of the district’s administration, Victor Villar, as associate superintendent, will be in charge of the day-to-day operations.
A special board meeting is expected next week to begin the replacement process.