The mood was somber when the Sonoma Valley School Board convened on Tuesday afternoon for a master plan information session, with the hundred plus gathered having just heard news of Superintendent Louann Carlomagno’s resignation.
Those who stuck around for the seven-plus hours of meetings that followed would likely agree that it appears to be a particularly challenging time for the district to be without strong leadership in place. The district faces difficult budget decisions, as well as what has turned out to be a contentious process in rolling out its school “master plans.”
Further roiling the waters was the filing last month of a hostile-workplace complaint against school board member John Kelly by retiring director of curriculum and instruction Karla Conroy. The school board on Tuesday voted unanimously – with Kelly recusing himself – to hire an external legal consultant to investigate the complaint against Kelly.
Carlomagno, who would have been the point person for much of the decision making that lies ahead this summer, is packing up her office to leave at the end of the month. (See related story on A1.)
Without a superintendent, these tough decisions will fall heavily on the shoulders of what some have recently described as a “dysfunctional” school board.
The board will have no time to enjoy the start of summer as a series of unplanned, emergency sessions are set for this week and next.
On Thursday, the board met in a closed session to accept Carlomagno’s resignation and to discuss next steps. Board President Dan Gustafson expects the board to lean toward finding an interim superintendent.
“It would be a tough time to do a full-scale search right now for a permanent hire,” he said.
On Saturday, the board will meet in an open session at 9.a.m. to discuss the search process timeline.
There have been more than a typical number of senior staff changes across the district this summer.
Beyond seeking an interim superintendent, the board expects to begin looking at resumes this week to fill the newly created position of associate superintendent of finance. The staffer in this new position could take the lead in what most expect will be a difficult budget process, with the district needing to make significant budget cuts over the course of the next 12 months.
Smaller openings across the District abound, but notably include the director of Sonoma Charter School, in light of Kevin Kassebaum’s resignation the same day as Carlomagno. And some spots have just recently been filled: Dunbar and Sassarini elementary schools are welcoming new principals this summer, and Sonoma Valley High School will welcome two new vice principals.
The District’s $49 million budget for the 2017-2018 must be approved in June. Budget talks will continue, however, as the board is slated to adopt a broadscale budget reduction plan that includes more than $2 million additional cuts.
“We’ve had to make bigger cuts than this over the past decade,” said Carlomagno. “But because we want to be fiscally conservative, a number of hard decisions will need to be made.”
Board Trustee Kelly voiced concern over the budget at the June 6 meeting.
“We are deficit spending and it is dangerous,” he said. “We’re not in a recession so it is really worrisome to me that we are spending down our reserves.”