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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.

The West Contra Costa County Unified School District board held a special closed meeting Friday night. (Photo by David Rodriguez)

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 parent displays a sign in support of Superintendent Duffy. (Photo by Chan’Cellore Makanjuola)

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.

6 Comments

  1. Giorgio Cosentino on November 18, 2019 at 7:18 am

    The school board voted for a 15% teacher salary increase when we knew our district was struggling financially. So how can they blame the superintendent? The teachers deserved the raise, but the money was never there. And now they want to put another bond measure on the ballot? My daughter’s WCCUSD school was never completed with the last measure we voted for, but we are making do, although we lost our science lab and art room to accommodate the increasing number of students. We need to make do with what we have. The WCCUSD respective cities have their own financial issues to deal with right now, including El Cerrito, so maybe WCCUSD bond measures and parcel taxes need to take a back seat for a few more years.

    • Mary Ellen on November 19, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Mr. Cosentino, do you mind if I ask what school your daughter goes to? I’m curious about your comment about the increasing number of students. I thought the district enrollment was going down. This is especially curious if the school is one that is having to “make due.” It seems to support the position that bond dollars are a luxury, not a necessity.

  2. Jason on November 19, 2019 at 9:21 am

    That’s a resounding NOPE to any new bonds.

  3. Giorgio Cosentino on November 21, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    My daughter attends Ohlone in Hercules.

  4. Ramon on November 23, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    What happened to Cuevas? She ran on an Instruction over construction platform. Now we see them getting ready to vote construction bonds and a waterfront facility for the adults and all the while, the district scores are still at basement of state and now we are 48 million in the hole! This is so infuriating! And we wonder why families are so desperate to leave this dysfunctional district!

    I say we recall Cuevas, Lara, and the rest of those adult driven members who do not even have kids on the district! More to come.

    SAY NO TO THE BAILOUT!

  5. Aaron on November 23, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    We are pathetic!

    Listen to our so called leaders:

    “Most of the board indicated their support for the measure without reservation. Board member Valerie Cuevas, the most vocal supporter of the
    measure, said that despite the resistance the board is sure to face, she promised to continue to fight for students. “I’ll take that risk for our kids,”
    Cuevas said. “Every day, any day.”

    She thinks we are stupid! This has nothing to do with a fight for kids and has everything to do with protecting guarantees for the adults such as the teachers union, the Superintendent, and these pathetic board members and most pointedly us- we elected these clowns and now look! The scores have been in the basement for decades, the constituents are in massive tax debt, we have a dysfunctional board where only 1 member has kids in WCCUSD.
    Where I was once anti charter- man, I think we need to open more and close this district trainwreck. They hire staff like Supt. Duffy who has no experience, and then have these terrible staff like Dr. Linda who spews ignorance every time she is at the podium and needs a lawyer , who by the way bills by the minute, to answer her questions !! We are and have been in a spiral and I am mad as hell.

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