Surprise OUSD board action keeps acting superintendent in place
By Tina Richards
Making another unexpected course correction on the road to hiring a superintendent, the Orange Unified Board of Trustees voted to keep Acting Superintendent Dr. Gunn Marie Hansen in that position instead of hiring two part-time interim superintendents, as originally planned and published.
The Sept. 14 board meeting agenda called for a decision on two already negotiated and agreed-upon contracts with retired superintendents Carmelo Franco and Garrett Rutherford. The two would share responsibilities, each working two different days a week. The shared position was determined to be the best course of action because retired educators can earn only $43,755 in a given time period, and OUSD’s needs would exceed that. Hiring two part-timers – paid separately -- would give the district the coverage it needs for the next five to six months without surpassing the individual earning cap.
When the meeting topic came up, a motion to approve the contracts was made and seconded. Before the vote could be taken, however, John Ortega asked if he could make a substitute motion. “I want to move that we extend Dr. Hansen’s role as acting superintendent,” he said. Tim Surridge seconded Ortega’s bombshell.
“I don’t support two interim superintendents,” Surridge explained. “We have someone here who’s doing a fine job. And there’s the continuity piece. She knows the district.”
While it appeared that Board President Rick Ledesma knew (along with Ortega and Surridge) what was coming, the rest of the board was dumbfounded.
“Why didn’t we hear about this in closed session?” Brenda Lebsack demanded. “We had 10 minutes left at the end of the meeting. Why didn’t you bring this up so we could discuss it?”
“This is a surprise for everyone,” Kathy Moffat agreed. “We’ve been discussing this for months. Now we have no chance to think about it, no chance to discuss it with constituents.”
“It keeps the status quo,” Rick Ledesma offered. “It’s the best cohesive decision we could make. It gives staff a level of comfort. I don’t want the district to be a test case for co-superintendents. These candidates have never worked together before.”
“Co-superintendents is not an experiment,” Lebsack interjected. “It’s been done for many years.”
Hidden in plain sight
The board whole-hearatedly agreed that Hansen is, indeed, doing a good job as acting superintendent and capable of continuing. It did not, however, agree on the presentation.
“This is an excellent suggestion,” Moffat said. “But it’s brought up after so many moves, we have candidates on hold, contracts discussed, a lot of people have made space in their life for this.”
Moffat also noted that Hansen is currently doing her own job as deputy superintendent of educational services, as well as serving as acting superintendent. “We have to find her some assistance,” she said. “What she’s doing is not sustainable. We don’t want to wear her out.”
“And,” she added to her colleagues, “you guys (Ledesma, Surridge, Ortega) have thought about this.”
“No, not at all,” Ledesma said. “I’ve just had concerns about the vote.”
“This is political game-playing,” Lebsack observed. “I’m not happy with it.”
“I don’t like the way this was sprung on us,” Alexia Deligianni-Brydges added. “But I’m very supportive of Dr. Hansen.”
“Dr. Hansen would be wonderful, “Andrea Yamasaki concurred. “But I don’t like the way it was brought up. We could have done this two months ago, but instead we went through the whole rigamarole, we negotiated contracts.”
Help is on the way
For her part, Gunn Marie Hansen was willing to accept the position, with the stipulation that she receive help. “This is a surprise to me, too,” she said. “I serve at the will of the board, but I will need help. I’d ask that Executive Director Dr. Anne Truex backfill my position.”
Ledesma assured her she’d get the help she needed.
Trustees Moffat and Lebsack, still reeling, asked if, should Hansen be “interested in the superintendent position down the road,” there would be any impropriety or prohibition if she served in the acting position. The board’s legal council said “no.”
A 6-1 vote extended Hansen’s role as acting superintendent until the position is permanently filled. Lebsack, who agreed that Hansen is competent, but “didn’t like the process,” voted “no.”
The board subsequently awarded, by unanimous vote, a contract to the search firm Leadership Associates to replace McPherson & Jacobson, the consultants terminated last month.
“Can we just cancel the search firm and hire Dr. Hansen?” Lebsack wondered aloud.
“No,” Acting Superintendent Hansen said. “You need to hire a search firm.”
“It’s our due diligence,” Ledesma advised.