Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Ed Gonzalez, Madera Unified School District then-superintendent, listens during public comment of a board meeting the night before he was terminated.
Trustee praises superintendent he voted to fire
In the wake of the firing of Superintendent Ed Gonzalez by Madera Unified school trustees with a unanimous vote last week, one board member is holding fast to his confidence in Madera’s former school chief, in spite of the fact that he joined the rest of the board and voted to fire Gonzalez.
In an interview with the Tribune Friday, Ricardo Arredondo said, “My thoughts and feelings regarding Ed (Gonzalez) have not wavered.”
In a prelude to the school board meeting last Wednesday, those thoughts and feelings were first made public on Feb. 25, 2015, after a raucous board meeting in which a huge crowd filled the district office and board room to decry what they thought was Gonzalez’ imminent dismissal.
The forum for the revelation of Arredondo’s “thoughts and feelings” was “Power Talk,” the Christopher Gabriel radio broadcast on a Fresno station.
The radio host had learned of the difficulty in Madera and invited Arredondo to explain the crisis.
Gabriel said his sources in Madera told him the problem involved a power struggle between Gonzalez and the school board. He pointed to the allegations of bullying and gender discrimination by the superintendent and asked Arredondo how Madera got to that point.
Arredondo began by citing the election that took place in November 2014, which brought three new trustees to the board. The trio took the oath of office, and the board elected a president and clerk for the coming year.
In January 2015, the new president called a special meeting of the board. The agenda included an item which called for approval of a contract with an outside law firm, ostensibly to conduct governance workshops.
However, Arredondo said, the agreement was really a contract for general counsel services, and the district already had general counsel on a retainer.
Arredondo said he and other board members were “blindsided” by this agenda item and its short notice.
Arredondo told the radio audience that board policy demanded a vetting process before entering into a contract for general counsel services. He said the item passed with a 4-3 vote, notwithstanding board policy.
According to Arredondo, this was the beginning of a fractured school board. The same 4-3 alignment held for over a year.
Shortly thereafter, according to Arredondo, Gonzalez and Associate Superintendent Victor Villar were put on notice that they were in danger of being fired. The agenda of the Feb. 24 board meeting carried an item for closed session, which included the superintendent’s evaluation; dismissal, release, termination.
Arredondo said this caused the community to “erupt,” and a huge crowd showed up for the meeting to support Gonzalez.
Arredondo asked the radio host a rhetorical question: Why did the crowd show up to support Gonzalez? He gave his own answer, “because they saw the same thing in Gonzalez that I saw.
“First, they saw in Gonzalez a skilled and sincere educator. Second, they saw an effective administrator. Third, They saw a leader who was not afraid to exercise his vision. Fourth, they knew their superintendent had done a good job.”
Arredondo then went on to show, point by point, how Gonzalez had demonstrated his effectiveness through his performance.
Arredondo then told his audience that the spotlight had been taken away from Gonzalez’ accomplishments by the behavior of a few misguided board members.
Arredondo said the crowd stood up for Gonzalez that night because they believed in him. They trusted him. His character and his personality led them to do so.
The radio interview ended with Arredondo making a few revealing observations. “He (Gonzalez) is a Maderan. He is a son of the community. The community loves him, and I am proud that he is our superintendent.”
Two years later, on Feb. 17, 2017, Arredondo told the Tribune, “My thoughts and feelings regarding Ed have not wavered.”
Arredondo explained the incongruence between his thoughts, his feelings, and his vote to fire Gonzalez with the following statement:
“The board unanimously voted to release Ed Gonzalez, and although I have been one of his most consistent supporters, I recognized that it was necessary to move forward in the best interests of our children and the district.
“There were calls for transparency, but the relationship between the board and the superintendent played out in a highly public manner over the past two years. During this time, it became abundantly clear that the relationship between Mr. Gonzalez and the Board was strained and unhealthy, without signs of improvement.
“The District cannot function well when the people running it are at odds on so many issues.
I sincerely appreciate all of the good work performed by Mr. Gonzalez in Madera. He brought stability, established credibility, and improved community confidence in the District. My estimation of his abilities has always been positive, and I appreciate his passion for education. I wish the best for him.”