West Contra Costa Unified Superintendent Dr. Bruce Harter will retire June 30, two years before his contract expires, as the result of “current political realities,” the district announced Friday.
The longest-serving superintendent in Contra Costa County at 10 years, Harter says his decision to step down relates to ongoing allegations of mismanagement of school bond construction funds. Last year, the Contra Costa Times called for his firing over the issue.
“The controversy over my service relating to the bond program could impede the District’s chances of renewing the current parcel tax in the November election,” Harter said in a district statement. “It is my hope that by removing myself from the equation, there will be more support for this critical funding source.”
Harter called the decision “difficult” but added it was “what’s best for our district.”
“It is clear that my continued presence would distract the conversation away from what is best for our students, and that is the renewal of the parcel tax,” Harter said.
In a statement, some of Harter’s supporters stood up for him. Maria Resendiz, a district community worker and parent, said Dr. Harter stabilized a system “fraught with uncertainty and fear.”
“When he was hired, the first thing he did was come to our schools and do listening sessions to find out what kind of change we wanted for our students. Someone was listening to where we wanted this district to go,” Resendiz said. “He was always there with us. I am sad that he is leaving, but I am honored to have worked with him hand-in-hand to try to change the challenges our kids face.”
The termination of his contract will be an agenda item at the upcoming Board of Education meeting. Amending Harter’s contract will save the district about $571,000. As part of the amendment, he relinquishes his contractual right to lifetime family health and dental benefits, among other compensation.
In retirement, Harter plans to volunteer in schools and in the community as well as provide professional assistance to aspiring administrators.
The district listed accomplishments that have been made during Harter’s tenure:
- Steady improvement in overall student achievement;
- Significant increases in the proportion of graduates attending postsecondary education from 56% in 2005 to 81% in 2015;
- Increases in the success of English Language Learners both in the number of students reclassified as fully English proficient as well as the success of those reclassified students on state testing;
- Increases in the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement tests in which students earn college credit in high school from 800 per year to more than 2000 in 2015;
- Increases in the percentage of students who meet the University of California’s A-G standards for college readiness;
- Increases in the graduation rate and decreases in the drop-out rates at district schools, with a notable achievement by Richmond High in having a graduation rate that is 8% higher than the state average;
- Implementation of full-services community schools in WCCUSD which now is the only school district in the Bay Area to have health centers in every high school;
- Expanding the array of social and academic support services in the highest need areas of the District;
- Improving the climate in the schools by providing greater physical and emotional safety, implementing social emotion programs that have resulted in substantially reduced suspensions and a dramatic decrease in expulsions;
- Leading the District in its release from 21 years of state financial receivership and supervision;
- Fully implementing the management effectiveness study to improve efficiency and effectiveness of central support services;
- Successfully renewing the 2004 parcel tax in both 2008 and 2012, funding that has resulted in class size reduction, while increasing counselors, librarians and the availability of after school programs to students in the District;
- Rebuilding schools including Dover, Downer, Ford, King, Coronado, Nystrom and Ohlone elementary schools, El Cerrito, Greenwood and DeAnza high schools, Pinole and Korematsu middle schools as well as major improvements to the Kennedy Swim Center, Richmond High School, Kennedy High School, Hercules High School and Crespi Middle School;
- Passing two bond measures, D in 2010 and E in 2012, which after rebuilding Pinole Valley High will provide about $200 million remaining for schools prioritized through the 2016 Facilities Master Plan.