Is it Wise to Fire-Proof Education Bureaucrats?

California Senate Bill 494, authored by Fullerton Democrat Josh Newman, stipulates that “The governing board of a school district shall not take action to terminate a superintendent or assistant superintendent of the school district, or both, without cause, at a special or emergency meeting of the governing board.” In similar style, the board shall not terminate a superintendent or assistant superintendent, “within 30 days after the first convening of the governing board after a general election.” Californians might wonder what this is about. 

At a January 5 meeting, Orange Unified School District board members Rick Ledesma, John Ortega, Angie Rumsey, and Madison Miner fired superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen and suspended assistant superintendent Cathleen Corella, both out of the country at the time. The move came without explanation and left many in the district confused. 

Some wondered whether the majority had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open-meetings law. Taxpayers might question whether SB-494 is the proper remedy as the district works this out. 

In California’s K-12 government school system, superintendents occupy a special place. They don’t teach, but they cost taxpayers a lot of money. 

For example, Gunn Marie Hansen’s salary was $336,157–much higher than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 224,020–with total pay and benefits of $426,978. Assistant superintendent Cathleen Corella is paid $203,086 in base salary, with a total pay and benefits package of $259,071. The beginning teacher’s salary in a small district is $46,844

Before taxpayer dollars reach the classroom, they must trickle down through four layers of bureaucratic sediment: federal, state, county, and local. California’s county offices of education tend to be holding tanks for bureaucrats. 

Prior to her employment in the Orange District, Cathleen Corella was a regional director for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Superintendent Debra Duardo is paid a base salary of $361,280 with total pay and benefits of $440,604. If taxpayers thought such bureaucrats were grossly overpaid, it would be hard to blame them. 

These exorbitant salaries are not conditional on student achievement. The taxpayer dollars keep coming, regardless of performance. In these conditions, taxpayers might question the wisdom of making superintendents fireproof. 

A better strategy would be to empower parents to send their children to the school of their choice. Instead of funding a bloated bureaucratic system, let the dollars follow the scholars to the government or independent school of their choice, as in the G.I. Bill. 

Meanwhile, SB-494 passed out of committee but needs full Senate approval before moving to the Assembly. How much difference it would make is debatable. Less than two months after her firing, the Westminster School District hired Dr. Gunn Marie Hansen at an annual salary of $335,000 plus benefits. In the government K-12 system, what goes around comes around. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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