Last July the Mt. Diablo Unified School District board of education concluded a nationwide search for a superintendent by announcing the selection of Dr. Robert Martinez as “the ideal candidate for this important leadership role.”
Just 10 months later that same board gave Martinez 30-day’s notice last Thursday after their fifth closed door performance evaluation since April 20. Board President Brian Lawrence made a very brief announcement of the action following a two and one-hour closed Zoom session to begin the special board meeting.
The following day, Lawrence said in a prepared statement, “The MDUSD Board voted unanimously to invoke article 7.4 of the Superintendent’s contract and begin the process of his separation from the District. We did not make this decision lightly.” Martinez is due one-year’s salary of $277,000 under the terms of his contract.
Complete change of heart
To dissect the reasons why a board that so enthusiastically hired Martinez last summer did a complete change of heart so quickly, you might need no more than listen to the May 28 special session that went on nearly six hours, including 60 recorded public statements.
During the meeting, the board unanimously rejected the tentative agreement that was reached with the teacher’s union last December following mediation, citing the draconian effects of the coronavirus pandemic has on the District budget.
They also discussed three potential methods of reopening school in the fall following the sudden closure of all campuses March 13.
The Contra Costa County Office of Education has put MDUSD on notice that they must balance their budget or face being taken over by the County or State.
Martinez inherited the 2019-20 budget and a situation with teachers who now have not had a contract with MDUSD since June 30, 2018 (a span of over 700 days). Even with those circumstances, observers noticed public comments and actions by board members that indicated their growing dissatisfaction with his performance, including rejecting one of his proposed manager hires.
Recruitment process begins again
Martinez came to MDUSD from the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District which he served for over 30 years. He was replacing popular superintendent Nellie Meyer who surprisingly resigned last spring to take a similar position across the Bay.
As the board began another recruitment process this week, the District faces uncertain financial waters and is just five months from a Nov. 3 board election to fill two seats in the first-ever trustee by area election. Voters in Area 3 (Ygnacio Valley High feeder area) and Area 5 (Concord High area) will elect new trustees. Lawrence and 2019 board president Joanne Durkee both announced last year that they would not be seeking reelection.
Lawrence sent an email to every District employee last Friday that said, in part, “The Board has defined a transition plan. We have immediately started the search for a new Superintendent and will be sharing the details of that timeline at our June 8 board meeting. Executive Director of Instructional Support Jennifer Sachs and Executive Director of Special Education Dr. Wendi Aghily will be stepping in as liaisons between the Board and staff during this time.”
A sign of the Board’s thinking concerned Bel Air Elementary principal Robert Humphrey On March 20 he was one of three administrators who were demoted to teaching positions based on the recommendation of Martinez. Following an outcry from teachers, parents and the Mt. Diablo Education Association that action was rescinded unanimously in the same closed session as Martinez’ final evaluation.
One of Meyer’s strong points was her seeming ability to be everywhere in the District, visiting schools and events, much of which was captured on social media. Critics of Martinez speaking to the board and privately pointed out that his “self-serving selfies” and social media posts on Twitter and Facebook seemed to mainly promote his book and appearances at conferences. Other comments said he only appeared at and posted about a select group of high performing District schools.
Teachers union president Anita Johnson pointed to her member’s dissatisfaction that the tentative agreement they voted in favor of in January was not dealt with more quickly by MDUSD. The CCCOE required the District to trim $20 million from its budget in order to meet the financial requirements of the new agreement.
At a prolonged Mar. 9 board meeting 98 teaching positions were eliminated for the 2020-21 school year to reach needed budget cuts. Four days later the state-wide school closures went into effect and all contract discussions ceased while distance learning was instituted for the District’s 30,000 students.
The County is now projecting at least an additional $10 million shortfall for MDUSD, which each Board member pointed to in voting down the tentative agreement last Thursday 5-0.
Johnson said, “The timing of the termination of Dr. Robert Martinez is problematic because of all the work that must be done to re-open schools safely during this COVID-19 pandemic. If this school board truly prioritizes students, then MDEA will be part of the process to find a new superintendent who will work collaboratively with educators to get the best resources and opportunities our students need to succeed.”
She told The Pioneer that the first time she ever heard of Dr. Martinez was when the Board announced his selection.
Johnson called on the board to immediately begin new negotiations with her union—even in the absence of a superintendent—and further claimed that, “These interventions by the Contra Costa County of Education are detrimental to the collaboration we truly need to move forward during this crisis.”
Related story: Dr. Robert Martinez selected as finalist for superintendent