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Lame Duck Board Gives Superintendent Extra 'Clout'

November 22, 1987|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

NORWALK — Two incoming school board members critical of Supt. Bruce Newlin are fuming over the outgoing board's approval last week of several contract changes that arm Newlin for potential legal confrontations with the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District.

"They gave him some administrative clout like I've never heard of in my life," complained newly elected board member William Campbell, a retired school administrator who worked under Newlin for years. "I'm so angry about it."

Bruce Butler, another former district administrator elected earlier this month, said he was "in shock and disbelief that the outgoing members of the board would be a party to these types of changes." Departing board members, he continued, were trying to make it almost impossible for their successors "to manage the district as they see fit."

Ignoring requests that they leave Newlin's contract review to the new board when it takes over early next month, members of the old board extended Newlin's contract by a year, until October, 1991. In the process, they added a number of new clauses giving the superintendent legal protection in the event the new board goes to war with him.

Newlin, who requested the new provisions, said the changes simply give him long overdue safeguards of the sort already granted lower ranking district administrators.

"With a new board, I'm not anticipating anything, but I just think it's best to have those kinds of conditions so everyone knows what the ground rules are."

The Nov. 3 election significantly altered the seven-member school board, replacing Newlin loyalists with two outspoken Newlin critics, Campbell and Butler, and a third newcomer, Sal Ambriz, who has promised a close look at the superintendent's policies.

Given the tenor of the election, defeated board president Lucille Colln said the new contract language was entirely appropriate. "Under the circumstances, why not? . . . We think highly of him. Why shouldn't we give him his due process in the event they ask him to leave? We feel he's been a good superintendent."

The new clauses:

Require the district to pay Newlin's attorney fees, including those associated with litigation, "in the event of a conflict arising out of the superintendent's employment with the district."

Spell out a number of steps the board must follow if it wants to fire him, including giving him advance notice, detailing the charges against him, and giving him a hearing.

Include language in which the district concedes "that any termination or attempted termination" before the expiration of his contract "shall necessarily cause substantial damage to the superintendent in his career and reputation . . . "

Fred Leonard, director of field services for the Assn. of California School Adminstrators, said such protective clauses have become increasingly common in recent years. "Superintendent contracts are getting tighter and tighter," Leonard said. "Contracts used to be almost a handshake, now they're several pages long."

Along with adding sections, the board dropped wording requiring Newlin to notify the district if he looks for another job or receives an unsolicited job offer. Another deleted phrase required Newlin to get board approval before undertaking outside consulting work or speaking engagements.

Newlin said he has no plans "at the present time" to look for another job, and if he was ever under serious consideration for another position, would inform the board.

Two Voted Against

The contract extension was approved 5 to 2, with board members Jesse Luera and Bill White voting against it. The three departing board members, defeated incumbents Colln and Nancy Jenkins, and Marge Beckman--who chose not to run again--all voted for it.

White said he thought the contract vote should have been postponed until the new members assumed their seats. He also complained that although he knew Newlin was requesting some protective language, he was not presented with the actual wording until the study session preceding Monday night's meeting. "Everything was last minute."

All the new members said that once on the board, they would undoubtedly consult an attorney about the contract modifications.

Although Ambriz said he viewed the new provisions as unnecessary, he added that he was neither surprised nor bothered by them. "I have to work with it . . . We can't reverse what was done."

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