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Seeking a Fresh Start, South Pasadena School Board Lets Chief Quit

June 02, 2005|Rachana Rathi | Times Staff Writer

The South Pasadena school board and Supt. Rob Arias agreed to part ways this week after more than two months of intense public scrutiny following their decision to reassign four administrators.

The school board voted 4 to 1 in a special closed session late Tuesday to accept the superintendent's resignation and to issue a public statement that acknowledged no wrongdoing on either side. "We think he would be more successful at a different district," said board President Joe Loo. "The community was so divided, it [was] a difficult situation for anyone to be in. At this point, we'll all start fresh."

The controversy began when Arias and the school board decided March 10 to reassign four of the district's eight school administrators. Instead of voting on all four reassignments, as required by district regulations, the board voted on only one. Then, the superintendent's office mishandled the letters informing the administrators of their new positions.

South Pasadena parents and community members, many of whom moved to the city for its well-regarded 4,250-student school district, quickly took sides. People tended to either oppose the reassignments and view Arias as the wrong fit for the school district; or they believed the superintendent was improving a faltering district and was being bullied by the teachers union leadership.

The disagreements grew rancorous, dividing a usually close-knit community. High school students staged a walkout, parents and community members held private and public meetings and hundreds of e-mails were sent to board members.

In late April, the school board rescinded the reassignments and board member Richard Sonner asked for Arias' dismissal. More than four hours of public comment and nearly six hours of closed board meetings followed.

Arias' resignation is effective June 30, although he was immediately placed on administrative leave. He will receive eight months of severance pay and up to 12 months of health benefits.

Board member Tammy Godley voted against his resignation, saying his 11-month tenure was not long enough for Arias to prove himself. "There was not clear thinking on the part of the board here," she said Wednesday. "There was a lot of pressure by various forces put on certain members of the board, and instead of having the courage to do what was right and what was wise, they took a course of action that was both inappropriate and destructive for our district."

There is also concern that this incident, coupled with the contentious manner in which Arias' predecessor left the district and a teacher contract dispute, will taint the district's ability to attract a replacement.

"The superintendent lost his job over one decision to improve the district," said Arturo T. Salinas, a South Pasadena resident with three sons in elementary school. "What qualified person would want that job?"

Cathie Olsky, assistant superintendent of curriculum, is the acting superintendent. The board is expected to meet next week to discuss whether to hire an interim superintendent or begin the search for a permanent replacement.

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