Mister Phillips: Unwise to terminate WCCUSD superintendent at this time

Mister Phillips, member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board of Education.

By Mister Phillips

On Monday, I announced that School Board President Tom Panas, CPA, has called a special school board meeting for this Friday at 6 p.m., at an undisclosed location. We now know the location is Lovonya DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave., Richmond. I also announced that I believe President Panas will attempt to terminate the superintendent at this meeting.

In my opinion, it would be unwise to terminate the superintendent at this time. As the community knows, the school district has a $48 million budget deficit. The board only has seven months to fix the problem.

I do not believe the current board can fix the problem without a superintendent. With all due respect, neither the president of the board nor the clerk of the board possess the necessary leadership experience to pull it off; and no one on the board has the necessary financial expertise, despite their claims to the contrary.

The wisest decision is to leave the superintendent in place for now. Otherwise, the district will have to spend over $500,000 to buy out his contract, hire one or more interim superintendents, and conduct a proper search for the next superintendent. All that is on top of teaching kids and trying to avoid state receivership. That sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

That said I have been the superintendent’s toughest critic since joining the board. I have never rated him higher than needs improvement; and I have reprimanded him in private and public for his actions and lack of humility.

However, the board must look beyond the superintendent’s faults for now and see the big picture: terminating him in the middle of a short-term fiscal recovery plan would be disastrous to the district.

Not only would the district have to spend $500,000.00 that it does not have. The district would most likely lose the $7 million grant from the Hewlett-Foundation that the district just applied for. The funders are supposed to visit the district on Monday. I hope we have a superintendent when they get here.

Mister Phillips is a longtime community advocate who currently serves as a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board of Trustees.