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Trustees Oust Schools Chief; 3 Principals Are Demoted : Personnel: Orange Unified superintendent's contract is bought out for $134,000 against a backdrop of a projected $5-million shortfall. An assistant superintendent is also removed.

May 16, 1992|MARY HELEN BERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Despite a projected $5-million budget shortfall, the Orange Unified School District Board of Education voted late Thursday to spend more than $134,000 to buy out the contract of Supt. Norman C. Guith and install an interim superintendent.

Guith, who packed up his belongings at the district headquarters immediately after the closed session vote, said he regretted "accepting sorely needed funds that could have been used for educational purposes as a result of the buyout of my contract."

The board voted 4 to 3 to fire Guith, who was in the second year of a three-year contract, and appointed assistant superintendent of business services Richard Donoghue as acting superintendent. Trustees also voted not to extend the contract of Roger Duthoy, assistant superintendent of secondary education, and to reassign three veteran principals to the classroom, despite months of public outcry.

Trustees said they would not discuss personnel matters and refused to state their reasons for firing Guith. However, the board has a history of rocky relationships with administrators and with Guith, who was supported by the community in recent protests and who blamed internal politics for his termination.

Guith frequently clashed with board members on policy issues and administrative methods. He came under fire earlier this year for allowing bilingual report cards to be distributed without formal approval from the board.

"It was an uphill battle to turn the district around from the start due to lack of board and certain internal support," Guith said. "If we were all pulling together as a team and would have set politics and personal agendas aside, we could have returned Orange Unified to the top. . . . With the current governance structure, I feel sorry for the students of Orange Unified."

Parents and teachers expressed outrage over the board's decisions and said the removal of Guith, Duthoy and three popular principals--Ewell Gunter of Palmyra Elementary, Eddie Salgado of La Veta Elementary and Gerry Uffelman of Richland Continuation High School--has cast a pall over the district and thrown Orange Unified into disarray.

"The district is just devastated today," said Marvella McAllister, mother of a La Veta sixth-grader.

"I don't understand any of it," said Adon Brownell, a fourth-grade teacher at Palmyra, who said the schools' teachers supported Gunter, their principal, and Guith. "We feel very helpless we don't know what to do. It's really sad."

Parents who support the educators responded to the board's decisions by officially going ahead with a long-planned recall drive against six of the seven trustees Thursday. The recall petitions allege that the trustees "mismanaged the public trust for failing to heed the wishes of many who have publicly supported employees of the district."

The parents and other supporters, who have until Oct. 21 to collect 13,180 signatures on each of the six petitions, said they were dismayed that the trustees had not heeded protests, pickets and petitions supporting the five men. They criticized the board for approving a buyout of Guith's contract when the district is in fiscal crisis and certified employees are being asked to take a 4% pay cut next year.

The district will pay Guith about $120,000 to cover the remainder of this year's salary and to pay off the third year of his contract. In addition, he will probably receive money to cover his $700-per-month expense account and fringe benefits such as mileage, district officials said.

Donoghue will receive the same salary paid to Guith--$109,000 a year plus benefits--a raise of more than $14,000 from his current pay.

Guith's arrival in 1990 was hailed as a time of healing and a new era for the district, which for years was rocked by scandal, fiscal problems and union disputes. The honeymoon with board members was brief.

In February, Guith requested that the board decide whether his contract would be extended when it expired in June, 1993. When board members told him that they could not guarantee an extension, relations deteriorated rapidly, district insiders said.

While refusing to comment on why Guith was let go, trustees did say that they had confidence in Donoghue's ability to temporarily lead the district and that the personnel changes matched the district's long-range goals.

"We're looking forward to making changes that will provide better education for children in the classroom and that requires some changes, not only in personnel," said Lila Beavans, board vice president.

"This is a real new beginning," added Trustee Bill Lewis. "We're going to get some good talent to lead this district."

Guith is the third superintendent to leave the district in five years. Kenneth D. Brummel was fired in October, 1986, eight months before his contract expired and after blowing the whistle on suspected fraud in the district.

The board then named personnel administrator John Ikerd as acting superintendent to replace Brummel. He was officially named superintendent in June, 1987, but resigned in November, 1989, after new board members expressed a lack of confidence in him.

While Guith left the district immediately, Duthoy and the principals will most likely remain employees next year. Duthoy's contract as assistant superintendent of secondary education has expired, but he could be reassigned to the classroom or to another administrative position, district officials said.

The three principals, who each have more than 20 years with the district, may return to teaching and take pay cuts of $13,000 to $18,000. Uffelman said he had hoped that the board would respond to community input and said he was surprised to be targeted for reassignment.

"The only option I have at this point is to return to the classroom."

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