Brown Act violation charged in appointment of new Oxnard school superintendent

Brown Act violation charged in appointment of new Oxnard school superintendent

Concerned parties questioned the process of appointing an interim superintendent for the Oxnard Union High School District. Under the Brown Act school boards may discuss and decide on an appointment in a closed session but not determine salary. -DB

Ventura County Star
June 11, 2009
By Cheri Carlson

Oxnard Union High School District trustees named an interim superintendent Wednesday night, signing off on a yearlong contract with Bob Carter.

Superintendent Jody Dunlap, who led the district for four years, plans to step down next week, and Carter, formerly Oxnard Union superintendent from 1980-90, officially will start July 1.

Carter, 71, said he loves the Oxnard Union district. “The board feels that I could help out, and that’s what I’m here to do,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting.

His annual salary will be $210,000, according to the proposed contract, which also allowed for up to $10,000 for relocation expenses. He won’t receive health and insurance benefits under the agreement.

The board met behind closed doors to discuss the appointment. Back in open session, board president Steve Stocks announced that trustees had approved the terms of the agreement in a 3-1 vote, contingent on Carter’s acceptance.
He also announced that Carter had accepted the job.

However, the board’s vote on the agreement may have violated the Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law. A board may meet behind closed doors to discuss and appoint someone to the post, under the law, but those closed sessions cannot include discussion or action on proposed compensation.

Oxnard Union attorney Jack Parham, present at Wednesday’s meeting, said board-appointed representatives can negotiate an agreement outside of a public meeting. But he said Thursday that the final action should take place in a meeting open to the public.

On Thursday, the board called a special meeting to consider the interim superintendent agreement, correcting any violation. It’s scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today in the district boardroom at 220 South K St. in Oxnard.

In Wednesday’s 3-1 vote, Trustee Ken Benefield, a personal friend of Carter, abstained from the vote, and Trustee Socorro Lopez Hanson, who has criticized the appointment process, dissented.

A few weeks ago, Hanson charged that the board violated the Brown Act, saying decisions were made outside of public view. She said Stocks polled trustees privately on how to fill the vacancy and gathered a list of possible candidates.

District officials said Stocks was just collecting information for a future agenda item. But on advice from Parham, the board later put the issue on an agenda to correct any possible violation.

On Wednesday, Hanson reiterated her concerns.

“I am very disappointed in the way this whole process for selecting an interim superintendent went. I did not meet Dr. Carter until tonight. I never had the opportunity to interview him. I did not see his credentials ever,” Hanson said.

“When we go through this again,” she told trustees, “it needs to be done more inclusively and with more transparency.”

Carter’s proposed annual salary is higher than that of other superintendents in Ventura County. However, he will not receive health and retiree benefits. According to a recent Grand Jury report, superintendents’ salary plus benefits, including Dunlap’s, are more comparable to Carter’s compensation.

Hanson said Thursday she also had concerns about paying so much during a state budget crisis when public schools are facing steep funding cuts.

Trustee Dick Jaquez said he understood that interim superintendents typically get paid a similar salary to the current superintendent. He said Dunlap’s annual salary, health and other benefits was similar to Carter’s salary.

Carter, who lives in the Cincinnati area, plans to find a place to rent in the area, he said.

He has worked as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent of school districts, including Santa Clara Unified in the early 1990s and Charles County Public Schools in Maryland through 1996.

After that, Carter said he tried out the private sector, going to work as a regional vice president of sales for Sylvan Learning. He left that job in 2002 to open a large new high school in Mason, Ohio as principal — a job that allowed him to give up the frequent travel he did with Sylvan, Carter said.

Weeks after accepting the job, Carter’s wife was diagnosed with leukemia, he said. She died two years later, and he left his position about that time.

Since then, he has coached high school football and wrestling in his retirement.

In other business Wednesday, the board authorized a petition for a new charter school. The public charter, called ACE High, will specialize in architecture, construction and engineering and be open to high school students countywide.

The Ventura County Office of Education and Oxnard Union officials have worked with industry leaders and educators to draft plans for the high school, expected to open in fall 2010. Courses are expected to emphasize hands-on projects and include college-preparatory curriculum, preparing students for college, a professional apprenticeship program or a job.

Copyright 2009 Ventura County Star