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Sonoma Valley Schools board names Carlon temporary superintendent


In a quickly convened public meeting on June 10 in the wake of last week’s resignation by schools superintendent Louann Carlomagno, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board of trustees named a temporary superintendent and agreed to attempt to secure an interim superintendent by the end of June.

The board appointed longtime district Human Resources Director Loyal Carlon to the temporary role and agreed not to try to hire a permanent replacements for Carlomagno at this time.

Carlomagno, who has served as superintendent of SVUSD since 2010, announced her resignation on June 6, and will leave the district on June 30 to assume an interim superintendent role at Hillsborough School Distric in the South Bay.

Dan Gustafson, president of the SVUSD board of trustees, said the timing couldn’t be worse for such a head hunt.

“Experts have told us that this is absolutely the worst time to look for a permanent hire [as districts have just finished their hiring],” said Gustafson.

Gustafson stressed that the district shouldn’t rush to make a quick hire for the sake of expedience.

“Put it this way,” he said. “We should date rather than select a bride in a dimly lit bar at midnight.”

Gustafson said that the advantage of an interim, many of who are retired, is that they tend to have strong skills but aren’t worried about their long-term job security, “so they will tell it to you straight.”

A hiring subcommittee, which can legally only have two board members due to Brown Act restrictions, was formed, consisting of Gustafson and trustee Sal Chavez. The subcommittee is charged with coming up with a timeline, a list of desired characteristics, interview questions, the appropriate term of office and salary.

Gustafson said he already has a few candidates and that their goal would be to identify a potential interim by the end of the month. He also mentioned that they were happy to receive suggestions from the community.

Trustee Britta Johnson felt strongly that the entire board should see the entire list before it was winnowed down.

“We want to build trust in the process,” she said. Gustafson confirmed that all members would.

“The scary thing is that I can’t assure you we are going to find a great person in two weeks,” Gustafson said to the packed room of 80 or so community members who came out on a Saturday morning to take part in the public meeting.

He went on to clarify that the interim might be hired for a year, or only a few months, and that a search for a permanent superintendent would be launched simultaneously. He noted that the typical hiring season is December and January, and that starting now put SVUSD in the “pre-season,” which wasn’t a bad place to be.

The June 10 meeting was held in a large conference room at the district headquarters on Railroad Avenue. The board took public comment twice, once at the start of the meeting and again midway through.

Former longtime UCLA Chancellor Charles “Chuck” Young was one of the first to take the podium during public comment. He had strong words of praise for Carlomagno, calling her “the finest superintendent that I have encountered in all my years in education.”

He went to express his anger, that “one trustee has made it impossible for Louann and her staff to do their job and serve the children.”

Carlomagno has said her frustrations with the board since the November election – that’s when trustee John Kelly won the Sassarini-area seat on the board – was a primary factor in her taking the Hillsborough job.

He added: “You won’t be able to get a good replacement unless you fix this. If you can’t fix it, the voters will,” alluding, he confirmed later, to the possibility of a voter recall of trustee Kelly.

Young serves on the board of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation and he expressed concerns that recent events might cripple the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

“It is going to make it very hard for them to raise money to continue the projects they fund in our schools,” Young said.

Former board trustee Helen Marsh echoed his point when she rose clutching her invitation to the Red & White Ball and asked the board and the crowd who would “bother to attend” the August event now?

Marsh noted that she served on the board under four different superintendents.

“What superintendent is going to want to work here now?” she asked. “This situation is toxic. You need an interim who will figure out what happened and fix it – if it is fixable.”

Former board member Gary DeSmet, who lost his seat to Kelly in the November election, took to the podium to lament the situation.

“We were always able to get down and dirty in closed board sessions,” he said. “But we always respected each other and presented a good face to the public.”

Gustafson mentioned that the board had been scheduled to meet with Walt Buster, a respected consulant on board/superintendent relationships and school governance, but that one trustee declined to participate. When a community member pressed him about which trustee that was, Gustafson replied that “he didn’t want to point fingers.”

Sonoma Valley High School Principal Kathleen Hawing noted that her spouse was formerly on the board, and she knows exactly how contentious board disagreements can be.

“You all can go toe-to-toe in the closed sessions,” she said. “But we expect you to come out to the public meetings ready to proceed and work together for the kids.”

Trustee Chavez voiced frustration that, “some board members don’t understand what their role is,” and added, “if you think you are capable of doing the job [of superintendent] then apply,” he said. “Now is the time.”

Two district parents took the podium to express displeasure with Carlomagno.

District parent and El Verano Family Resource Center employee Mario Castillo said he has been disappointed by Carlomagno’s work serving the district’s Latino population and that he has been frustrated working with both her and the school board.

“Half of our kids have not been served properly, and that’s a fact,” he said. “If Mr. Kelly had an agenda, a vendetta, fine, he got what he wanted. Now can we move on? We have to, it’s not about us, it’s about the children.”

Parent Celeste Winders said students “don’t have time for mourning and bickering and arguing.”

“It’s time to take care of the kids right now,” said Winders. “It’s time to do our job.”

She added that she has seen a lot of people blaming and pointing fingers who she has never seen at a school board meeting before.

“It is time to put this to rest and move forward,” she said. “Here right now, we should be talking about what our administration needs, what our deficits are. Let’s all take a good look at ourselves and stop pointing our finger at one person.”

At the meeting the trustees decided to table the search for another open positions – that of associate superintendent of business.

“Picking someone for that new role now would be putting the cart before the horse,” said Gustafson.

Contact Lorna at ourschools@sonomanews.com.