Central High School experienced the polarity of emotions on campus Tuesday (Feb. 27) night. At the gym, the boys’ basketball team experienced a thrilling playoff victory over Sunnyside.

About an hour before that final buzzer, anger and sadness cast upon the auditorium on the other side of campus. The school board fired Superintendent Mark Sutton.

When the Central trustees announced their decision following a closed session, Sutton’s seat on the dais was empty. He sat there earlier in the meeting and his absence was a spoiler when board president Cesar Granda announced the board’s 4-3 decision to terminate Sutton.

Before the trustees repaired to closed session, they heard public comment. Many parents and students lauded Sutton for being there: sporting events, academic meetings, FFA gatherings. And, maybe for one last time, Sutton demonstrated the accuracy of that praise.

With his back along the wall and face in his cell phone, Sutton blended into the gym to watch the Grizzlies in their basketball battle. Not many in the crowd realized he was there. Probably even fewer realized he was no longer the superintendent.

Lead-Up to the Vote

On the July 25, 2017, board meeting, the board gave Sutton a “satisfactory evaluation” according to the district’s minutes. Sutton’s name then appeared on the closed session agenda on Sept. 12, Oct. 24, Nov. 14, Dec. 12 and Jan. 9 — all with no action taken.

At the December meeting, a parent and teacher, Bernice Bailey, first broached the subject of Sutton’s contract during public comment. She praised him and felt he deserved a raise.

More supporters started to speak in favor of Sutton at subsequent meetings.

At Tuesday’s meeting, most of the parents and teachers cited Sutton’s positive leadership.

“(Sutton) is the best man for the job. If you do not agree, I want to hear why.”—teacher Elena Vincent

“I see how much better Central is under its present leadership. I see how much more we can grow,” teacher Elena Vincent told the board. “He is the best man for the job. If you do not agree, I want to hear why.”

Some showed skepticism. Jeff Yribarren felt the board met outside of a public meeting to discuss Sutton’s future, a possible violation of the Brown Act. “This community is now aware of the corruption and cronyism that has been going on at all levels of the district. We are not going to put up with it anymore.”

Not all spoke in favor of Sutton. Some parents complained that Sutton failed to attend their child’s soccer game.

Michael Cruz, a parent, said he supported whatever decision the board would make. He then served a recall notice to Trustee Terry Cox, who voted to retain Sutton.

Cruz told GV Wire he felt Cox was a divisive force on the board. He felt frustrated over the progress of building a second high school campus in the district.

The Moment of Truth

While the board met in closed session, Sutton remained in the auditorium kibitzing with the community. He expressed to GV Wire his desire to remain as superintendent, but conceded it was not his decision. He disappeared when the board returned.

After Granda announced the 4-3 vote for termination, most of the parents exited the meeting, choosing to vent outside. They vowed to either vote the board members out of office or opt for a recall.

The vote tally:

Voting in favor of the termination: Granda, Ruben Coronado, Rama Dawar and Richard Solis.

Voting against: Cox, Phillip Cervantes and Richard Atkins.

No Answers

Why did this happen? Answers were in short supply. Granda did not get into specifics, citing privacy laws about closed-session items. He danced around most inquiries in a five-minute session with the media.

When asked how a superintendent who received a positive performance review got fired, Granda said, “Things happen.”

The terms of Granda, Coronado, Atkins and Dawar end at the close of the year. They are eligible to run again.

“That’s fine. That is the voice of the people. I’m making a business decision based on information.”—Central Unified board president Cesar Granda

Asked if he would run again, Granda said it was irrelevant at this point. As to the anger of the parents: “That’s fine. That is the voice of the people. I’m making a business decision based on information.”

The move also surprised board member Terry Cox, who sat in on the closed session meetings.

“The (other board members) are not taking to us, even in closed session. I have not been given reason why,” Cox said.

Union Stays Neutral

Central Unified Teachers Association President Judee Martinez said her group remained neutral on Sutton.

“It’s not our responsibility as an association. It is the board’s responsibility,” Martinez said.

She expressed that she was just as surprised as anyone over the board’s decision.

“Our relationship (with Sutton) has been all business. It has been very positive. He was the first superintendent we invited to one of our association meetings,” Martinez said.

The union is wrapping up a survey of members on how they felt about Sutton. Martinez said the questionnaire finishes today. But, at the meeting, union member Tina Tompkins leaked results: Of the 392 teachers surveyed, 68% endorsed renewal.

[Clarification, 3/02/18: CUTA High School at-large representative and executive board member Tom Burkart tells GV Wire, the survey results weren’t leaked per se, it was just a miscommunication of when they could be released. Burkart helped conduct the survey among teachers. He also says the way the survey was conducted, 268* teachers expressly endorsed Sutton out of the 804 who received the survey. *In the original clarification, the number was erroneously reported as 168.]

Former Superintendent Surprised

Sutton’s predecessor, the semi-retired Mike Berg, is just as shocked as the rest of the community.

“I don’t have an immediate reaction other than surprise. There was no indication of stress in the district. Mark is a good man,” Berg told GV Wire. “I am at the same loss as others in the community are.”

Berg said he is not interested in returning to Central. He recently served as an interim superintendent for the Parlier district after retiring from Central in 2015.

What’s Next

The board will hold a special meeting next Tuesday to hire an interim superintendent.

Sutton will be paid through the June 30th expiration of his contract. His base salary for this school year is $201,571 (see contract here).


3 Responses

  1. Vivian

    Again *Fake News*. Why only those for Sulton interviewed n highlighted. There were opposition in the crowd. Media is biased. He was fired from Selma Unified for a reason as in this situation. And he started,as he did in Selma, gathering alleys to protest n become vocal on his behalf. Not sure if those supporters were as vicious, lying, violent, brainwashed as selma residents were. Some protesters even *spit* at board members again Sulton. strange how community found out about , both time, contract may not be renewed. His position is confidential so only He would be obvious to initiate the attack on board members who don’t worship him. Thank You board members and Selma former board members, those recalled. You stood up for Integrity, Character, honesty, and doing what it takes to do the right thing. Don’t allow Central Unified to become the evil as Selma Recall community.

  2. Rocky

    Only Central Unified Board members know close door information, if they act on it they deserve a big thank you for not turning their heads and taking care of business for our kids. Anyone wanting a recall is ridiculous because there are no facts. It seems that the people that want this recall should show PROOF of lies they are spreading poisoning the characters our passionate board members. Also board member Mrs. Cox should stop being a crybaby because she didn’t get her way. He was released from Selma for reasons that may pertain to what was going on up here. Thank You Central Unified for putting kids first and not any friendships!

  3. J

    The two that have commented are definitely are part of the “Fake News” that Vivian speaks of. Were you even there? I was. Opposition to Sutton was, at a minimum, out numbered 10:1. Their claims of lack of attendance to a soccer game or specific school site were grossly unsubstantiated and an obvious plant. Mrs. Cox being threatened with a re-call petition was laughable and nothing more than a retaliation by a small group against the overwhelming population that is not being represented by their constituents. The vote was 4:3 not 7:0, 6:1 or even 5:2. The Board members who voted to keep Sutton will tell you that nothing has been debated as to the reasons of his release. It’s my opinion that a puppet master or two, have the strings of 4 board members to instill their agenda. The public is not being represented by their elected officials, changes will come, but for now the District and it’s Children are stuck paying for their ill conceived plan.


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