Tiny Southland School District Fires Grossly Overcompensated Superintendent

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Jose Fernandez

When Superintendent Jose Fernandez came under fire in February for making more than $750,000 last year to run a 6,600-student school district in Southern California, he offered to give a few thousand dollars back.

That did not placate his critics, who were legion, and the Centinela Valley Union High School District Board put him on leave in April. As the story gained national attention and tales circulated about alleged abuse of power, the cash-strapped school board revoked his pay in May and hired Risk Control Services (RCS)—“A premier consulting, investigation and crisis management firm specializing in threat management, risk assessments and security solutions for the affluent community and major corporations” —to check Fernandez out.

The RCS report has not been made public, but on Tuesday the board unanimously voted to fire the former Inglewood city councilman.

Fernandez was hired in 2009 and renewed in 2012. His colossal package of perks brought his total compensation to more than twice his $271,000 base pay. He received a 40-year, $910,000 loan with 2% interest from the district to buy a home, a generous pension, the right to cash out vacation days and a guaranteed 9% annual pay raise.

Fernandez’s compensation worked out to $113 for each of the district’s students, compared to 60 cents per student paid to Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy. (His package is worth $390,000.) Critics were fond of pointing out he made more than President Barack Obama.

Once news of his compensation became public knowledge, school board members scrambled to explain how this contract could have been signed without their tacit approval. That is still the subject of ongoing finger pointing, but is only one aspect of the who-knew-what-when blood-letting concerning Fernandez’ alleged management shortcomings.

A Torrance Daily Breeze story in May detailed a “reign of terror” as told by employees and former employees. “People were afraid to say anything to anybody, because Jose had people—let’s just say spies,” ex-district public relations employee Pat Springer told the newspaper.    

The stories were legion. One elderly adult school principal who reportedly fell out of favor was demoted and transferred to “one of the worst jobs in the school district,” supervising the guidance room at Leuzinger High in Lawndale where kids were sent after being kicked out of class.

Fernandez was accused of getting around seniority rules by laying off seven teachers to get to the one he wanted canned. A similar situation was described involving the closure of three computer labs in different schools and layoffs of three techs just to get rid of one person. The district’s former human resources director claimed she quit when Fernandez warned her about having attended a party with a friend whom he didn’t like.  

Investigations are reportedly underway by county, state and federal agencies, while lawmakers kick around some legislation that may address some of the Fernandez compensation issues. It is in the process of being heavily rewritten.

Fernandez has said in the past that the board knew the details of his contract and approved them. One of those details included a one-time supplement of $230,000 that he used to purchase seniority in the state’s retirement system.

His contract also reportedly has a buyout clause that will entitle him to $500,000 on his way out the door. Fernandez has 10 days to respond to the board.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Centinela Valley School Board Fires Embattled Superintendent Jose Fernandez (by Rob Kuznia, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Centinela School Board Votes to Fire High-Paid Superintendent (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

Centinela Valley Employees Describe “Reign of Terror” under Superintendent Jose Fernandez (by Rob Kuznia, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Head of School District with 6,600 Students Made $663,000 in 2013 (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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