Suspended Rio Superintendent Gets Specifics of Accusations Against Her
May 9, 2003
Sandra Murillo, LA Times

Most of the 16 charges involve Yolanda Benitez's role in bilingual programs.  

Suspended Rio School District Supt. Yolanda Benitez learned this week of the specific charges levied against her in an ongoing school district investigation, which has sparked protests from Benitez's supporters and a recall campaign against two board members.

At an often raucous school board meeting Wednesday night, Benitez was apprised of 16 charges against her, ranging from insubordination to manipulating poor parents into remaining in bilingual programs by offering them food and clothing.

Most of the allegations revolve around how Benitez allegedly tried to impose a pro-Latino, pro-bilingual educational agenda in the elementary school district. "I'm shocked that the bilingual program is being attacked," said Benitez, who declined to discuss specific charges against her. "We work very hard to get them ready for an English environment and for it to be under attack like this, it's really sad."

The school board voted 3 to 2 in March to place Benitez on paid leave pending an investigation into her administrative and financial practices.

The superintendent will be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in a closed-door meeting with the school board next month.

During Wednesday's meeting, an attorney for the district was asked by Benitez to publicly read the allegations against her. The district's attorneys later declined comment on the investigation, saying it is a personnel matter and therefore confidential.

Specifically, Benitez, who has served in the district for eight years, is accused of failing to inform parents of their rights in bilingual education matters, instructing teachers to tell parents to sign bilingual waivers, directing staff members not to move deserving children into mainstream English-language classes and to dispose of any job applications from people without Hispanic surnames.

Benitez, 51, is also accused of telling staff members to hide files in their cars during a state audit of school records and of providing food and clothing as incentives for parents to sign bilingual waiver forms.

The accusations against the superintendent, which were met by public outbursts and even laughter by some of Benitez's allies who attended the board meeting, are the latest in an increasingly heated battle for control of the tiny district in the working-class community of El Rio just outside Oxnard.

"We believe these are probably the most divisive charges they could possibly come up with," said Denis O'Leary, a Rio teacher and spokesman for a local Latino advocacy group.

"I think the charges are basically complaints by a couple of individuals."

Benitez has accused Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn of orchestrating a campaign to oust her. Tensions between the two strong-willed leaders began more than two years ago after Benitez endorsed Flynn's opponent in the 2000 supervisorial election, according to the superintendent.

One of the charges read Wednesday night accused Benitez of doing campaign work for a political candidate on district time. No other details were available.

Two school board members, Henrietta Macias and Ron Mosqueda, became the targets of a recall campaign after they voted in March to suspend Benitez with pay pending the district's investigation.

Board member Ernesto J. Almanza also voted for suspension.