On January 18, at close to 11 pm, the Gateway Unified School District Board emerged from a two-hour closed session to announce that members had not yet appointed a new superintendent for the District.
Despite representing a best outcome for many, the news was met with silence from a crowd that had already endured more than five hours of meeting irregularities.
Around 120 community members showed up to attend the Board’s fifth meeting in as many weeks; most were concerned that the Board would appoint a superintendent without following the District’s approved process. Some sat in rows in rolling chairs, others stood against the back of the room, holding paper signs that indicated a lack of confidence in Board members Lindsi and Elias Haynes and Cherill Clifford, who have pushed forward many of the Board’s surprising actions over recent weeks.
Those actions have included a vote by the two Haynes and Clifford to terminate the District’s long-standing superintendent without cause, a decision which has led to increasingly entrenched anger among District staff. Many say that new Board members should have taken time to get to know former Superintendent Jim Harrell before firing him.
Over recent weeks, the Gateway Board has also allegedly failed to follow California’s public transparency law, resulting in a legal warning from California’s largest teachers’ union.
Despite that, some back the Board’s current majority, among them Richard Gallardo, a local political activist and self-titled citizen journalist who unsuccessfully attempted a citizen’s arrest on all five members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in 2020.
Gallardo attended the meeting wearing a yellow vest and earpiece and referring to himself at times as “security,” a claim District staff refuted. He also spoke briefly to the crowd to claim authorship of a social media post that suggested attendees should arrive to the meeting early to fill it up “before the libtards do.”
In that post, Gallardo advised citizens to come to a “security briefing” in the parking lot and be prepared to “keep the peace” by going “hands on with disrupters (if needed.)”
But by the time Gallardo made his remarks late in the evening, they did not seem to faze the Gateway community crowd, who responded to his incendiary statements only with mild groans and complaints.
Attendees had already endured a Board meeting which had deeply challenged public business norms. Irregularities began as soon as the meeting started, when President Clifford asked to begin with a prayer not listed on the agenda. That drew calls of protest regarding the need for a “separation of church and state” from the crowd.
In response to Clifford’s suggestion, a member of the public quickly appeared at the lectern and led a prayer asking Jesus to help the community put the children first, a statement met by rolled eyes from some in the assembled crowd.
Board member Elias Haynes then called for a formal change to the Board’s agenda that would have put off the Board’s action to approve of the closed session agenda until after the closed session itself was held. The Board debated this possibility for more than ten minutes before Acting District Superintendent Steve Henson intervened to explain the irregularity of such a decision.
After a few more moments of discussion on the topic, Board President Clifford rapped her gavel, calling for a recess to gather her thoughts. Board members then recessed, together, to a side room off of the main hall where they began to discuss and interact out of view of the public, something that’s forbidden by public transparency law. They were followed by Record Searchlight reporter Damon Arthur, who briefly argued with members of the Board in the side room, stating that they were violating the Brown Act and that he must be allowed to remain present.
Seeming to understand the issue, Henson and Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Debby Boontjer took charge. Boontjer made an announcement to the crowd about what was happening, while Henson took Clifford to meet with him one-on-one. The four other Board members separated into groups of two, with two returning to the District Board room.
They reconvened about twenty minutes later to re-organize their agenda with step-by-step help from Henson.
After taking public comment, the Board then voted to “bypass” the District’s policy for how to recruit and select a superintendent, a decision that may circumvent California law that requires school boards to make and follow policies that cannot be altered without appropriate public involvement.
Before the Board moved into closed session to discuss appointing a new superintendent, they took further public comment. At that time, acting Superintendent Henson, who usually sits beside the Board, moved to the lectern to ask the Board to carefully consider the legal issues they could face as individuals if they moved forward to appoint a superintendent without the appropriate legal representation.
“I feel compelled to voice my concern and advice,” Henson said, beginning by recounting his family’s history of military service and emphasizing his Christian faith.
“I share this information with you in hopes that my loyalty to my faith, my country, this district, and to the duties of my current position will not be questioned. I would like the Board of Trustees to understand I am not your adversary, I’m your advisor.. . . I urge you to postpone any decisions that would put the district and yourselves at risk of future liability. As you’re aware Lozano Smith attorneys-at-law have chosen to no longer represent us . . . . Let me have the time to find and contract unbiased, objective legal counsel that will represent the District and all of the trustees. . .”
Board members eventually voted in closed session to take no action on superintendent appointment. They have not yet publicly discussed further steps towards recruiting, selecting, or appointing a district superintendent.
Since mid-December, community concerns about the Board’s process have been driven by a widespread rumor that the majority intends to hire Bryan Caples, a local school administrator who has been terminated from multiple district superintendent positions and has made openly racist statement against Native students in public forums.
Caples’ state teaching and administrative credentials were also recently suspended until February 13. That lack of valid credentialing appears to render Caples ineligible for the superintendent position under California law, for now.
The next regular meeting of the Board is scheduled for February 15. The agenda has not yet been posted.
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- Gateway Will Consider Appointing A Superintendent: Here’s What Board Policies, And California Law, Require
- Parents, Staff, Former Student Show Up As Gateway School Board Reverses Prior Action On Superintendent Recruitment
- Gateway Unified School District Board Terminates Superintendent Jim Harrell Without Cause
- Tension, Transparency Concerns, Take Center Stage In Latest Gateway Unified School District Board Meeting
- California Teachers Union Warns Gateway School Board Of Alleged Multiple Violations of Public Transparency Law
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