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Cleaning house: MUSD board bounces four school administrators

After June 30, three of Madera Unified’s top administrators will no longer work for the school district, and another will be reassigned if he doesn’t also leave the school district by that date.

At their Feb. 28 meeting, trustees voted to relieve Victor Villar of his duties as associate superintendent at the end of the school year, and they announced the resignations of Director of Student Services Michael Mueller, Director of Special Services Laura Tanner-McBrien, and Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Runyon, effective June 30.

Mueller, Tanner, and Villar were made part of the district’s leadership team under former superintendent Ed Gonzalez. Runyon was promoted from principal of Chavez Elementary to Chief Academic Officer one month before Gonzalez became superintendent.

Informed sources, both inside and outside the district office told the Tribune, on the condition of anonymity, that the resignations came as the result of pressure from the board.

In a statement to the Tribune, Gonzalez said, “The four individuals who were forced out made great contributions to Madera Unified. The district has been heading north for four years. The board leadership clearly wants to go in a new direction. That should be of great concern to every citizen of Madera.”

According to two knowledgeable observers, Mueller and Tanner were informed last week that if they didn’t submit resignations, they would be released. Both complied. Both Mueller and Tanner deny that their personnel files contain any negative items.

Runyon said she submitted her resignation on Feb. 22 because of what she said was the toxic atmosphere created by the firing of Superintendent Ed Gonzalez.

“I have been happy at Madera Unified until recently,” said Runyon. “With the latest developments, that changed, and I decided to go elsewhere,” she said.

Villar, along with Gonzalez, was the subject of an investigation in early 2015, which was initiated by Maria Velarde-Garcia, who was president of the board at the time, and conducted by S. Brett Sutton of Sutton Hague Law Corporation, P.C.

Villar was accused of aggressive and bullying conduct and was found by Sutton to be in need of “anti-harassment and bullying training,” because one employee reported that he “yelled at her and made her cry.” Sutton also wrote in his report that Villar uses ALL CAPS in his emails, which “furthers the perception of aggressive and bullying conduct.”

In its Nov. 15, 2016, evaluation of Gonzalez, the board clearly showed it was unhappy with some district administrators. Without naming individuals, the board accused Gonzalez of protecting some (administrators) who were “incompetent.”

It went on to assert that “some of his (Gonzalez’s) past hires, as well as some of those he inherited, are not performing.”

The board signaled it was going to look closely at the administrative staff when it noted in Gonzalez’s evaluation that he “needs to provide the board with a list of department heads and location of offices.”


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