The TVUSD board devalues teacher input

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

For several months, there has been speculation that Superintendent Timothy Ritter will retire at the end of the current school year. With this in mind, 840 TVUSD teachers signed a letter requesting the school board consider both internal and external candidates to replace Ritter. The request was sensible and reasonable. However, in closed session March 3. The board appointed TVUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational support services, Jodi McClay, as Ritter’s successor, with zero consideration of external candidates and making it clear that teacher input is not valued.

The vote was 4-1. Only trustee Barbara Brosch had the wisdom and courage to recognize that the best possible candidate for the most important position in the school district can only be determined by a process that looks inside and outside the district. If indeed McClay is the best candidate, that result would certainly show in a competitive interview process.

The board majority believes that a continuation of the status quo, a continuation of Ritter’s record, is best for the district. This belief compels a brief examination of the discretionary aspects of school district management during Ritter’s reign.

While the board likes to tout TVUSD’s top academic standing in Riverside County as evidence of a well-managed district, this ranking says nothing objective about the discretionary aspects of school district management since we have the lowest percentage of disadvantaged students in the county. Here are some highlights of Ritter’s management record:

Administrative bloat. During Ritter’s reign, the number of district office administrators has skyrocketed as student enrollment has declined. The most egregious example is in McClay’s department. For most of my 23 years in the district, ESS has had one director. That department now has five.

Fiscal responsibility. During the 2016-2017 school year, a time of large increases in school funding, TVUSD was among the 3% of districts in California with a budget lacking a positive certification. The board’s accountability measure for our district being in the bottom 3% was salary increases at the top. Additionally, the district has no grip on financial projections. Their multiyear projection showed $3.1 million in reserves at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. The actual number was over $60 million. Lack of internal fiscal controls is what allowed the former TVHS bookkeeper to allegedly steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from student ASB funds.

Accountability. When an employee engages in unlawful and dishonest conduct, they should be held accountable. Under Ritter, this accountability has been arbitrary. While the former TVHS bookkeeper is being prosecuted, the district’s charter school liaison, Scott Schaufele, is not. Schaufele made multiple substantive changes to the charter of Keegan Academy, a former TVUSD-authorized charter school, without board approval, which is a violation of the law. He also reported financial and educational performance information to the board about Keegan Academy that is contradicted by audit and the California Department of Education. In other words, his reporting was fabricated. Schaufele’s scheming resulted in the squandering of about $1 million of taxpayer funds and led to the unlawful closure of Keegan Academy. However, Schaufele is part of the administrative team and his direct supervisor is Ritter, so accountability does not apply to him.

In 2018, I informed the board that I was going to file a complaint with the Riverside County grand jury regarding the Keegan Academy situation. Their response was to insert a legal indemnity clause into Ritter’s contract. It states that if he faces any legal jeopardy related to his job, taxpayers will pay for his defense. With this board majority, it’s not about facts and law, it’s about protecting their administrative team. The board relies upon an attorney for the Keegan Academy matter that declares one thing to the federal court under penalty of perjury, then tells them something completely different, and all at taxpayer expense. Two versions of the truth mean the attorney is not honest, but that she’s an extension of the administrative team.

Let’s not forget Ritter’s nepotism when his daughter’s school district employment application was flagged during a criminal background check. A grand jury investigation showed that Ritter used his influence to impact the hiring process – an egregious violation of the public trust and something for which he should have been terminated. An earlier internal investigation conducted by McClay reached the opposite conclusion. McClay, who is not an human resource professional, showed poor judgement by conducting an investigation of her boss Ritter and his daughter, her subordinate. Is quid pro quo the reason for McClay’s promotion to the top job?

Three years ago, a large majority of TVUSD teachers let the board know that Ritter was not an effective leader. The board’s answer was a contract extension and a pay raise. Our community deserves a board that values teachers for more than just photo ops and believes in holding the administration accountable.

Rob Clause