Simi Valley schools Supt. Robert W. Purvis on Tuesday became the latest of five school superintendents in Ventura County who have decided to quit by summer, a trend exacerbated by the frustration of endless budget cutting.
Purvis, who became superintendent in October, 1990, said he became an administrator about 25 years ago because he wanted to help build better education programs. But today, he said, he finds himself "continually looking for places to cut cost . . . you have to be very creative just to meet basic student needs. The stress is tremendous."
At 59, Purvis is not the only top school administrator overwhelmed by the continued dilemma of trying to balance a budget and meeting the mounting public demand for better education.
Superintendents throughout the state are quitting or taking early retirement because the continuing budget crisis forces them to dismantle the educational programs they had vowed to enhance, according to state education officials and the Assn. of California School Administrators.
"It's a thankless job--no one ever thanks school administrators for a job well done and I think a lot of them feel it just isn't worth it anymore," said Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
"Superintendents can't do anything creative anymore," she said. "All they can do is cut budgets. Who would take a job where you're told, 'The roofs are leaking and you can't afford to fix them and, by the way, you're getting 1,000 new kids in your district'?"
In addition to the Simi Valley Unified School District, notices of resignation have been given by superintendents of the county superintendent of schools office, the Conejo Valley Unified School District, Oak Park Unified School District and the Santa Paula Union High School District. In some cases the superintendents have a year or more left before their contracts or terms expire.
Although each of the superintendents has given different reasons for quitting, most say they are workaholics and the job stress has forced them to consider other employment. Fed up with working 60 hours or more a week, most have said they have reassessed their priorities.
Oak Park Unified School District Supt. Susan Hearn said the primary reason she's leaving her post is because she needs to eliminate stress to recover from high blood pressure. She also wants to spend more time with family and she and her husband plan to cruise the seas off Washington, Canada and Alaska.
But Hearn said she questions if she would have wanted to remain on the job if she was not faced with painful budget decisions she anticipates over the next few years. She said it would have been easier to stay if the district had enough money to hire another administrator to ease her workload.
"I've been fortunate enough to be a superintendent in a small district where (population) growth so far has helped keep programs growing," Hearn said. "But as I look down the road a year or two in this district, I know we'll probably have to make some serious cuts, and I don't want to be the person to do that.
"I see myself as a builder, not a destroyer. When you're cutting the budget you're often playing with people's lives and livelihood, hence their families."
Purvis, who also said one of the main reasons that he decided to quit June 30 is because he needs to spend more time with family, listed financial stability of his district as one of his accomplishments over the past two years.
But Purvis and other Simi Valley school officials said the layoffs that were avoided last year might not be prevented in the next school year if the state continues to cut funding.
"If we get the same amount of money from the state this year as we did last, we'll be getting 3% less because of inflation," said Purvis, who earns about $94,000 a year and has 2 1/2 years remaining on the contract that he negotiated with the school board last fall.
As superintendent, he oversees the district's $75-million yearly operating budget. The Simi Valley Unified School District is the largest district in the county.
Santa Paula Union High School District Supt. Carolina L. Erie, 57, who is credited with restoring order to the once-troubled district, has told board members that she will leave the district this summer after four years because her husband recently moved to Spokane, Wash., and she wants to join him.
Meanwhile, Ventura County Supt. of Schools James F. Cowan, 61, will retire this summer after a 38-year career in education because he wants to spend more time with his family and do the things he loves, such as traveling and fishing.
Cowan, Erie and Conejo Valley Unified School District Supt. William R. Seaver were unavailable for comment Tuesday. Although all three have not publicly pinned their decisions to quit on budget problems, plenty of other superintendents are bailing out specifically for that reason.