Votes are in – Superintendent Duffy stays, for now
on November 17, 2019
The West Contra Costa County Unified School District (WCCUSD) board held a special closed meeting Friday night and voted unanimously not to terminate the contract of Superintendent Matthew Duffy, Board President Tom Panas said.
Superintendent Duffy was not present at the November 15 meeting, which had been called to review his employment. But supporters—including teachers, parents and residents—turned out to urge the board not to fire him.
On Wednesday, school board member Mister Phillips issued a statement that he believed board president, Tom Panas, would “attempt to terminate the superintendent” at the meeting, a move he strongly opposed given the district’s $48 million deficit.
Terminating Duffy’s contract in the middle of the school year could have created further financial troubles for WCCUSD, according to board member Phillips’s statement. The district would “have to spend over $500,000.00 to buy out his contract,” he said, adding such a move would “most likely lose the $7 million grant from the Hewlett-Foundation that [it] just applied for.”
The Friday meeting came as a surprise to many of the attendees, with some airing their suspicions of other political motives behind the meeting.
“I’m frankly shocked that the board is meeting on a Friday night because I believe that this does sound a lot like a political coup and this is not a way to run a school board,” parent and former high school teacher Kari Tindal said to the board. “Don’t fire Mr. Duffy. This is a manufactured crisis and a waste of our time.”
WCCUSD elementary teacher Tresa Smith said she fears that talks around the firing of the superintendent reflects more broadly on performance of elected leadership in the district.
“It’s the school board and the superintendent’s job to check and balance each other, and it looks like there’s been a real failure and I find that really disappointing. Especially considering we elected half these people to keep us in a good situation,” she told Richmond Confidential.
Rick Alexander, a Richmond native who grew up in the WCCUSD system, said the deficit and the district’s low performance should not solely be blamed on Duffy.
“He can’t do no more than what you guys allow him to do,” Alexander told the board. “If [Duffy] wants to do something, [the board has] to legally sign off on it,” he later told Richmond Confidential. “If [the board signs] off on it, then they are aware of what’s being done in the district.”
At approximately 6:56 p.m. the meeting adjourned and the board went into a closed session.
Though some left during the nearly two-and-a-half-hour deliberation period, other attendees stayed to hear the decision.
Around 9:30 p.m., the board members came from behind the red curtain on the stage and headed to their seats. Tom Panas made a brief statement to the attendees about the board’s decision not to terminate Duffy, and then the meeting was officially adjourned.
At its next meeting, the board plans to consider adding bond measures to district election ballots, acknowledge Native American and Sikh American communities, as well as recognize African American/black student achievement in WCCUSD.
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