With the high-profile “purge” in Orange Unified fresh in mind, a Senate committee took the initial step week last to pass legislation intended to discourage newly elected school board majorities from immediately firing top district administrators.
Senate Bill 494 would require a newly constituted school board to wait at least 30 days before terminating a superintendent or assistant superintendent, and it would require a public notice of 72 hours before doing so.
Senate Education Chair Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, the author of the bill, said the bill would provide a “cooling-off period” that could lead to discussions and an opportunity to settle differences.
Edgar Zazueta, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, the sponsor of the bill, called it a “simple and commonsense bill” that recognizes the importance of stable district leadership while assuring that teachers, students and parents would have time to react to proposed dismissals.
Orange Unified provided a “sharp focus” for the need for the legislation, Newman said. A newly elected four-member conservative majority fired Supt. Gunn Marie Hansen and placed Assistant Superintendent Cathleen Corella on paid leave during the Christmas holiday break, with only 24-hours’ notice.
Acting three weeks after being sworn in, the board called an emergency meeting to fire Hansen “without cause,” thus avoiding the standard 72-hour requirement. AB 494 would apply the same standard to terminations with and without cause.
Members of the board majority, which offered no explanation for Hansen’s firing, also lined up an interim replacement ahead of time without full board knowledge, in potential violation of the state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and appointed him at the meeting. He resigned five weeks later.
“The sudden unexplained purge of our top two administrators has destabilized our district and has instilled fear and anxiety in our employees, students and parents. It has resulted in extreme distrust among board members and extreme conflicts within the community,” testified Orange Unified board member Kris Erickson, noting there are threats of lawsuit, with a trustee recall “on the horizon.”
She said the bill is not a “cure-all” but could provide time for dialogue and compromise.
The committee passed the bill 6-1; it needs full Senate approval before moving to the Assembly for consideration.