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Two Will Fill State Academic Decathlon Post

The executive director was fired amid financial difficulties. One of his replacements will focus on the event and the other on fundraising.

November 12, 2005|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

Six months after the controversial termination of executive director Marvin Cobb, the board of the California Academic Decathlon competition said it would hire two people to perform his duties -- one to concentrate on the competition and another to raise funds and do long-term planning.

Ken Scarberry, 39, now the decathlon coordinator for Solano County, between San Francisco and Sacramento, will manage the state competition. A fundraising and strategicplanning director will be named in the next few weeks.

Scarberry will continue coordinating the decathlon for his county, and the cost of his salary will be split between the county and state organizations.

Cobb was paid $65,000 annually. In telephone interviews, Scarberry and board Chairman Jeff McCombs declined to state how much Scarberry would be paid.

The decathlon program is privately funded.

After Cobb's firing, the state program was left to drift, with interim director Susan Beatty, who teaches college engineering courses, stretched thin.

The dismissal rankled coaches and coordinators.

More than 500 California public and private high schools participate in the state competition, which tests the mettle of students in 10 areas, including math and public speaking, on a different topic each year.

California has been a perennial powerhouse in the national competition, with teams from the Los Angeles Unified School District winning three of the last four national competitions.

Scarberry said the state competition was on track for March and that many county coordinators have stepped in to help Beatty, a board member who teaches mechanical engineering at Cal State Northridge.

The decathlon has long struggled to raise the $200,000 to $250,000 in annual expenses for running the program and annual competition.

Under Cobb -- a scholarathlete and All-American in baseball and football at USC in the 1970s who went on to play for five years with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals -- finances became so precarious that the state competition in early 2005 seemed in peril.

After a Times story about the popular competition's plight last year, several firms and individuals stepped in with donations, including former state Education Secretary Richard Riordan, who publicly pledged $10,000 of his own funds and raised $55,000 from others.

Cobb had complained that he fell behind on record-keeping because he lacked full-time secretarial, accounting and fundraising help for much of the four years he served as executive director.

The decathlon's financial predicament worsened after Riordan's group actually provided just half of the amount it pledged.

The Riordan Foundation's director, Nike Irvin, took issue with some of the receipts and expenses Cobb submitted for the state competition, such as medals purchased for event winners, the rental of Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and social events for the contestants.

Irvin also took issue with "highly questionable" charges, such as a dinner at the hotel where the competition was held and social events for the contestants after the tests ended.

"The types of drinks, hors d'oeuvres and quantities were not associated with any children," Irvin said in a recent interview.

Cobb said the dinner was to treat adult volunteers who helped run, judge and score the 10 contests that make up the decathlon, from math to public speaking.

Reached this week, Irvin said the Riordan group planned to contribute $24,000 to this year's competition.

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