Oxnard school districts in the spotlight, again

By Shane Cohn 03/09/2011


Oxnard School District warned about Brown Act violation

The messy saga of the Oxnard School District continues.

On Thursday, March 3, the Ventura County District Attorney’s office sent Board of Trustees President Ernest Morrison a letter indicating that the board violated the Brown Act regarding its decision not to renew the contract of Assistant Superintendent Glenston Thompson.

The board, the letter states, failed to report out the decision of the Feb. 2 closed session vote regarding Thompson’s employment contract. In further violation, when the board did report on the matter during the Feb. 16 meeting, it did so incorrectly. Morrison failed to disclose “the vote or abstention on that action of every member present.” Morrison only disclosed that the vote was moved by Trustee Dennis O’Leary and seconded by Trustee Ana Del Rio-Barba.
Lastly, the letter shows that during the Feb. 16 report, Morrison said “…The Board voted to provide notice of nonrenewal of employment contract to an administrator,” failing to identify the title of the position when the evaluation of three assistant superintendents and the interim superintendent were on the Feb. 2 closed-session agenda.

Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz warned in the letter that DA’s office can file a civil suit against the school district if the board asserts “that its actions were lawful, thereby establishing a threat of similar violations in the future.”

“Right now, it is with our attorney, and our attorney is preparing a response,” said Morrison.
Attorney Nitasha Kaur Sawhney, representing the district’s law firm, Garcia, Calderon, Ruiz, LLP, could not be reached by deadline.

O’Leary, who has served on the board since 2003, mostly agreed with what the district attorney’s letter claimed.

“The mistake is, we have a new board president, who became board president when he was sworn in the first time,” O’Leary said. “When he read out the information two weeks after we took the vote, he didn’t explain it as he should have.”

O’Leary explained that the original vote was contingent on another item, which he still would not divulge since it is a personnel matter.

“Basically, we delayed the announcement because there had to be a contingency that was met first before the action would take effect. We believe that is in accordance to the Brown Act,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary added, however, that he was confident the board would remedy this issue should the district attorney still not agree with the explanation of contingency.

Regarding the decision not to renew Thompson’s employment contract, the decision still stands, Morrison said.

But that decision will not go uncontested.

Attorney Greg Ramirez of Wasserman, Comden, Casselman, LLP, has been retained by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to represent Thompson.
Ramirez called it a “whistleblower case,” but is still unsure in what capacity.

“Suffice it to say, Glenston (Thompson) is not just going to roll over,” Ramirez said.
On Tuesday morning, Ramirez told the Reporter that a recall effort was under way for one or more of the Oxnard School District trustees, but could not be confirmed by deadline.


In the Rio School District . . .

On the other side of town, the Rio school board voted 3-1 last week to terminate Superintendent Sherianne Cotterell’s contract without cause. Hired in 2006, Cotterell is the third Rio superintendent to be ousted from the position.

Cotterell was convicted of misdemeanor petty theft for stealing two pairs of shoes from a local store last year, inciting members of the community to repeatedly call for her ouster.
She was put on paid leave and will receive an 18-month payout as stipulated in her contract. The cash settlement will entitle Cotterell to $247,500. Her annual salary was $165,000.
Two assistant superintendents have stepped up to temporarily fill Cotterell’s position. Mark Krueger and Barbara Wagner, who oversee the district’s business and educational services, respectively, are taking over as the board begins the search for an interim superintendent. Both have long histories in the field of education.

“Agreeing to do this is tremendous,” said Eleanor Torres, board president. “We couldn’t have two better people stepping up and taking control. I’m very excited about it.”
Wagner was hired in Rio in September 2009 as an interim assistant superintendent of educational services. She previously worked for the Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo for 33 years.

Krueger has spent the past two and a half years as the district’s assistant superintendent for business services. Prior to entering Rio, he worked 12 years for the Humble Independent School District in Texas, and previously in districts in Wisconsin and New Jersey.
Torres said she is in no rush to hire a superintendent. First and foremost, she says, she wants to bring back stability to the district.

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