The Madera Unified School District trustees left the public in the lurch when they fired Superintendent Ed Gonzalez last week.
Teachers and administrators who had worked with Gonzalez were dumbfounded. They knew only that he was a good guy to work for and believed him to be a terrific educator, one who was ideal for Madera’s student population.
Members of the public were asking why Gonzalez had been dismissed for no apparent cause — and then paid off with some $350,000 to satisfy the remainder of his contract.
And a lot of people are wondering whether any thought has been given to who will replace this man of good repute who spent a total of 28 years in Madera schools. Perhaps an answer to that question will be offered tonight after a scheduled but secret board meeting to discuss Gonzalez’s replacement, and perhaps question the candidate(s) to be that replacement.
But before we get into that, let us revisit last Wednesday night, Feb. 15, when the board unceremoniously and in secret voted 7-0 to dismiss Gonzalez without cause and pay $350,000 of the public’s money out for the privilege of getting Gonzalez out of their collective hair.
What a bunch of brave hearts.
Yes, folks, these representatives of the people were hiding out in a back room while some 100 citizens who had showed up to support and speak in favor of Gonzalez were left in the boardroom to cool their heels.
Were the trustees afraid the public would throw cabbages and tomatoes at them once their decision (reached in secret) was announced? Was that why they didn’t want their discussion about Gonzalez’s fate to be public?
The quality of Gonzalez’s professional performance did not seem to be in question. What seemed to be in question was this: Is it as important to assuage the feelings of the board as it is to educate children?
Apparently, the answer is yes.
In fact, if you were going to be questioning a candidate for the interim superintendency, it might be asked: Is it not more important to keep the board happy than to keep the schools running smoothly?
The board’s unhappiness with Gonzalez seems to have begun early in his employment when he ran afoul of Maria Velarde-Garcia, who was president of the school board and who insisted that Gonzalez get her a school district credit card to use as she wished. Gonzalez refused, saying it was against regulations. Velarde-Garcia then got the board to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a law firm to investigate Gonzalez over what she insisted was bullying and gender discrimination.
The law firm found no cause to discipline or dismiss Gonzalez.
So, we are down to this: Make the school system safe for the trustees, whatever the cost. Don’t hire a superintendent who will stand up to them. Make the decisions in secret, and don’t hesitate to give away the public’s money by the bushel if it turns out you have guessed wrong or if you’re in a snit.
We opened this piece by saying the public and school employees had been left in the lurch. What does that mean? Here is what the dictionary says: “Make an abrupt, unsteady, uncontrolled movement or series of movements; stagger; leave an associate or friend abruptly and without assistance or support in a difficult situation.”
The trustees have been successful, at least in that regard, if that was their goal.