Original  URL:  http://www.staronline.com/vcs/county_news/article/_0,1375,VCS_226_2082575,00.html

Rio school chief suspends 2 top administrators
Two others resign in shakeup
The Ventura County Star, July 2, 2003
By Marjorie Hernandez, mhernandez@insidevc.com and Kathleen Wilson,  wilson@insidevc.com

Two top Rio School District administrators were suspended with pay  Monday while two others resigned, leaving the elementary district with  four key management posts vacant.

The move comes two weeks after a divided school board fired Yolanda  Benitez as superintendent.

David Lopez, assistant superintendent for educational services, and  Frances Contreras, director of special projects, were both placed on  administrative leave with pay by Superintendent Patrick Faverty.

Faverty, who was appointed to the job last week, declined to comment,  saying it was a personnel matter.

Both Lopez and Contreras declined to comment as well but said they have  hired attorneys.

Also, the district's personnel chief, Dorothy Penney, notified the  district on Monday that she is retiring, board member Simon Ayala said.  Facilities director John Sinutko resigned a week ago to take another  job.

The shakeup leaves only one longtime administrator, finance chief Mary  Anne McCabe. She has been a strong supporter of Benitez along with the  others.

Two principals, Cassandra Bautista and Rosario Villapando, were  reassigned to classroom teaching. A third, Carol Flores-Beck, accepted  a position as a principal in the Oxnard School District. The contracts  of the remaining four principals have been renewed.

County Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis said he had never seen  management changes as radical as these, but fe has no authority to  investigate whether they were warranted.

"It's rather a radical approach to trying to move the district in a  different direction," he said. "I think it's the board's desire to  change the direction, and they want new staff to do it."

The fast-growing district of 3,900 students serving El Rio and part of  Oxnard has undergone an almost complete turnover in top management  since a new board majority was elected in November.

Lopez has worked in the district for 18 years, first serving as  principal and special projects director before becoming the assistant  superintendent of educational services in 1997.

Contreras was hired as the director of special projects two years ago.  Her duties included overseeing programs for limited-English students  and making sure the district meets the requirements of President Bush's  "No Child Left Behind" reform.

Ayala said that Faverty was unhappy with Lopez's performance in  improving instruction and handling a grant program that went over  budget. He said Contreras was criticized for her management of the  bilingual education program in light of the Grand Jury's finding that  students were placed in bilingual education improperly.

Under administrative leave, an employee is removed with pay pending the  results of an investigation into allegations against the individual.

Faverty cast the move as necessary for a fresh start.

"What we are doing right now is reviewing the problems that we've had  in the district," Faverty said.

"We are looking at what we are doing wrong and how to make it better.  The real issue here is we need to make certain that we are not making  mistakes anymore."

Board President Ron Mosqueda said Faverty will more than likely bring  the issue to the board during closed session at its next regular  meeting July 16. At that time, the board can overturn the decision with  a majority vote, Mosqueda said.

Trustees Anthony Ramos and Simon Ayala, who are both supporters of  Benitez, have been on the losing end of the five-member board's  decisions since the new majority was elected in November. Mosqueda and  Trustees Henrietta Macias and Ernest Almanza have controlled many of  the board's votes.

"The superintendent has already stated that all he needs to do is count  to three ... and I assume he knows which three he needs to count on,"  Ramos said.

The board placed Benitez on paid leave March 5 and fired her a little  more than three months later on June 13.