School superintendent’s firing proves expensive for Shandon

When the Shandon school district’s board of trustees decided to fire its superintendent earlier this month before his contract was up, it locked the rural district already struggling with state budget cutbacks into paying two administrator salaries.

“We did know we’d have to pay somebody (else),” trustee Kate Twissleman said Wednesday. “It’s regrettable, but necessary.”

Shandon Joint Unified, a small school district in the eastern stretch of the North County with 299 students, has cut approximately 5 percent annually from its overall budget each year since the 2007-08 school year, leading to layoffs and a reduction in hours for classified staff, fewer programs and fewer extracurricular activities, according to district business manager Annie Lachance.

The school district’s budget for the 2013-14 school year is nearly $3.6 million and is facing a nearly 2.8 percent deficit.

State budget shortfalls to the district in previous years have resulted in deficits of nearly 8 percent in 2008-09; about 18 percent in 2009-10; and roughly 22 percent in 2012-13, Lachance said.

Fired Superintendent Rodney Wallace will continue being paid his $112,500 annual salary plus benefits through June 30. A closer look at his contract, obtained by The Tribune, shows that Wallace also received an $18,000 annual housing allowance, a $1,000 annual stipend for having a master’s degree and 12 paid sick leave days. Wallace’s contract calls for him to work 220 days each fiscal year, exclusive of holidays and weekends.

Discussions on the school district’s next steps, including its search for Wallace’s replacement, can take place at the trustee’s next regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 12.

Meanwhile, the county Office of Education inked an Oct. 21 contract with local retired superintendent Tom Apkarian to help lead the district temporarily.  His agreement calls for him to be paid $500 a day, two or three days per week, without sick leave or health benefits, for a period not to exceed 30 workdays. 

Shandon’s school district would then repay the county Office of Education, county Assistant Superintendent Mary Jarvis said.

“They (the trustees) were in a bind because they couldn’t act to hire anybody until it was on a meeting agenda item at a regular meeting,” Jarvis said of her office’s action in the matter.

Administrators there were able to reach an agreement with Apkarian, a retired Pleasant Valley Joint Union Elementary superintendent, because expenses of less than $25,000 can be approved outside a public meeting, she added.

Wallace’s contract was terminated in a unanimous, closed-session vote by the school district’s board of trustees Oct. 15. The reason for Wallace’s termination wasn’t made public because it’s a personnel matter, but rumblings of the district’s discontent emerged in the summer when the board reported that it would not extend Wallace’s contract at its July 9 meeting, Twissleman said.

News of Wallace’s departure prompted some students to picket at Shandon High School and the reasons surrounding his departure remain shrouded. While district leaders declined to give more details, Jarvis has said Wallace should continue a career in education and was simply “not a good fit.”

“The Board of Trustees made the decision to exercise the right under its contract with Mr. Wallace to go in a different direction with respect to the superintendency,” board President Marlene Thomason said in an email.

With changes coming in statewide education policies and practices, “the board felt that now is the time to make such decisions as we move forward in positioning our district for future success.”

The five-member school board’s three other trustees either couldn’t be reached or declined to comment.