A highly contentious board of education special meeting on Tuesday, March 21 ended with the forced retirement of Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado and appointment of Eudes S. Budhai, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, as the interim.
Trustees Dr. Stanton Brown, Sherley Cadet, Karin Campbell and Pedro Quintanilla approved the motion to accept the resignation, which went into effect immediately, with trustees Robin Bolling, Pless Dickerson and John Simpkins voting no.
Rumors that the board would be ending the superintendent’s contract a year before it expired drew almost 150 residents, parents and members of the community to the special meeting, several of whom passionately voiced their support for Lagnado and called out the board for a lack of process and transparency.
“We need her,” said resident Dr. Betty Hylton, a former teacher in the district. “You’re not planning this in an intelligent manner. Allow her to stay and you can do a search [for a new superintendent]. To throw her out doesn’t make sense. If there is something you don’t like, the community needs to know. Why is this being treated this way?”
Many residents urged the board to wait until Lagnado’s contract was up to avoid paying it out and to conduct a thorough search for a new leader.
“No one wants to see money get thrown away. If you want to get rid of the superintendent, do a search,” said resident Pablo Sinclair. “Do your research. We are not going to have you get rid of her and get stuck with that money.”
One of the public’s major points of contention was that they felt no clear reasoning was given as to why Lagnado was being let go. When pressed in the public meeting by a parent as to “if there was a crisis in Dr. Lagnado,” Brown and Cadet declined to answer saying it was a personnel issue, with Campbell noting that “she was concerned about the overall issues in the district” and Dickerson saying he felt crises were being “proactively managed.” Bolling said she did not feel there was a crisis in Lagnado.
“We have very specific, serious crises. The challenge we have, is that as a board, we have not been able to convene to talk about those crises since the school year started,” said Quintanilla. “Those crises will impact our schools, over the next five years specifically, they will impact the quality of education the children get.”
“We are dealing with a forced resignation,” said Simpkins. “The timing is the most critical thing. If the board wants to go in a different direction, all I ask is that we have a seamless transition. We have an obligation to do so in a matter that doesn’t disrupt state testing, the audit, the budget. All these things are critical.”
After the resolutions were voted on around 12:30 a.m. on March 22, residents demanded to know details, such as how much Budhai would be paid (his salary is to be determined, at a per diem rate, said Dickerson) and the financial cost of accepting Lagnado’s retirement. Simpkins and Dickerson said Lagnado would be paid $753,351 in a lump sum by April, money that would come out of the fund balance of this year’s fiscal budget.
The audience also pressed the board as to what their plan was to find a new full-time superintendent.
“The district will open its doors tomorrow, teachers will be here to teach the children, buses will run, everything will run as it runs every day,” said Quintanilla. “We have very capable individuals in administration and at different levels that will step in. We have appointed Budhai as interim. We agreed to immediately reach out to SCOPE.”
“We were not given a plan,” said Dickerson, saying the district could not afford to be without a leader and that Budhai was the best one to “steer the ship at this point.”
Simpkins indicated that he was very much left in the dark about the whole process.
“Until this evening, I wasn’t aware of the interim. I wasn’t aware of the final terms, I’m not aware of the positions she vacated and how they will be filled. I’m still not clear,” Simpkins said. “It was my opinion that we needed to slow this down so there would not be any vacancies that would impact the upcoming state testing, the budget, and the current audit.”
Quintanilla, Brown and Campbell have maintained that numerous attempts to hold board retreats to discuss matters never came to fruition.