By Allen Payton
At their regular meeting on Wednesday, June 22, the Antioch School Board finalized the process for hiring a new superintendent for the district by voting 3-1-1 to hire Interim Superintendent Stephanie Anello.
Four of the board members spent months working to fill the position made vacant by the early, what some believe was the forced, retirement of Dr. Don Gill, by hiring of a search firm at the cost of $29,000, reviewing 20 applicants and interviewing seven of them and multiple, closed sessions deliberating. They finally settled on Anello as the consensus candidate and spent more time in closed door meetings negotiating her salary and compensation package and announced their selection on June 13.
The newest board member, Alonzo Terry, was appointed in May but didn’t take his seat until June 8, after a required one month provisional appointment period had passed, so he was unable to participate in any board meetings until then. He was the one vote to abstain.
Before the vote, two members of the public spoke.
“At this point, as part of the city council…I think you made an excellent choice,” said Antioch Councilwoman Mary Rocha, who is a former school board member.
Another resident spoke about Anello, as well.
“She’s always willing to give you the time and listen,” said Nayeli Salazar. “She’s always kept her word. I just want to thank her for all of that.”
Then the board members offered their comments about Anello, the contract and the process.
“A lot of work went into this contract…given the budget numbers,” said Board Member Debra Vinson. “This board’s looking at a level of high accountability. I’m looking forward to working with Ms. Anello. We’re behind the eight ball. I’m hoping we can push the reset button.”
“I’d like to echo those words,” stated Board Vice President Walter Ruehlig. “The process was very rigorous…where neither party was really happy.
“That’s an indication it was fruitful. Stephanie has had a 24-year probation with the district,” he continued to with a chuckle, and laughter from the audience. “I’ve heard this was pre-ordained, rigged. All I can do is laugh. We all went in with a completely open mind. If we could have found a better candidate, we would have chosen them in a heartbeat.”
Terry stated he wasn’t on the board during the process and “I have to depend and count on my colleagues.”
Board President Diane Gibson-Gray argued in favor of the contract, comparing the financial components with those paid to Gill.
“I said the cream would have to rise to the top,” she said. “We spent $29,000 on Leadership Associates and it rose to the top.”
She then shared the figures of a $250,000 salary for Gill, compared to $225,940 for Anello; a car allowance of $5,400 for Gill compared to $3,600 for Anello, “tel com” expense of $1,500 and bonus of $7,500 for Gill compared to zero in both categories for Anello.
Vinson offered additional comments.
“We had several very qualified candidates,” she stated. “We tried to do what’s in the best interest of the district. We hope to…really move forward.”
Terry then offered more comments on the contract, as well.
“It was difficult for me,” he shared. “We did a comparison. We hit her with some hardballs. I was surprised she took it. I was shocked.”
Vinson also argued for the contract.
“Look at the contract,” Vinson added. “Look at the details. If there was a difficulty (with the previous superintendent) there was 24 months. We limited that to nine months,” referring to the severance package portion of the contract.
Ruehlig then stressed another difference in Anello’s contract.
“Stephanie agreed to a two-year contract,” he said. “Standard in the industry is four years.”
Navarro then offered a different point of view and a critique of the process.
“I’m the one vote that’s not in support,” he stated. “It was not a predestined decision. I did try to warn the board if we did have an internal candidate to save the money.
“We lost a board member. I asked the board…we should accelerate to appoint the seat,” Navarro added, referring to the vacancy created by former member Claire Smith who resigned abruptly in March. “We went along with a four-member instead of a five-member (board).”
“My support is a thousand percent with Stephanie,” he continued, but said his opposition “is because of the issue of the contract. I applaud the board’s austerity. The numbers are generous. Superintendent salaries average $149,000 to $189,000 nationwide. We’re temporary custodians making long term decisions. It’s very generous with regards to the district. We’re in decline (referring to declining enrollment, which was reported earlier in the meeting).”
“Mine’s more of a vote to a clear conscience,” he concluded.
“I respect that,” he said. “I’ve always respected Fernando. There was no guarantee Stephanie was going to accept the position. We truly didn’t know. We had a long, long final session…to get to the final decision. It was a prudent decision.”
Vinson also offered additional arguments in favor of Anello and the contract.
“We had several qualified candidates,” she reiterated. “I understand Mr. Navarro’s position because I was there.”
She then spoke of two other candidates presented by the search firm and that they had to “look at what’s in the best interest of the district” and “a fit for the district.”
“To be a team player, sometimes you have to let your ideas go,” Vinson added.
“This is a team operation,” he said. “To have a full board, to not rush into anything like this.”
Then following their comments, Gibson-Gray, Ruehlig and Vinson voted in favor of the contract and to hire Anello, Navarro voted against, and Terry voted to abstain.
“All I can say is congratulations,” stated Gibson-Gray, after the vote and during the applause of the audience.
“I’m just really honored to serve the district in this capacity,” she said. “I thank you for the opportunity and look forward to continuing the work that is going on in the district and…some long overdue changes.”
“If at the end of two years, if we find we’re not good dance partners, then the board has the opportunity to make a decision, then,” she added. “I never want to be a block.”
“We look forward to two years, if not more,” Gibson-Gray responded, which drew laughter from the audience.
A press release from the district, on June 13th, announced the board’s selection:
“After a full search using Leadership Associates, the board selected Ms. Anello not only due to her extensive experience during her 18 years of employment with Antioch Unified School District, but also her seven months of on-the-job accomplishments as the Interim Superintendent.
Her experience in AUSD as a classroom Teacher, Vice Principal, Principal, Director, Associate Superintendent and Interim Superintendent, makes Anello uniquely qualified to lead the District.
Since taking the helm in November, Anello has successfully negotiated teacher and classified contracts, taken decisive action to integrate Special Education students into current and new AUSD programs by opening the Bidwell Center and has made several difficult decisions to better align spending with current revenues.
Additionally, during the last seven months she has successfully ensured that District initiatives are more publicly transparent. While doing so, she has adeptly employed positive social media, and established robust media relationships and city partnerships to highlight the many positive activities happening in our schools.
Ms. Anello has lived in the community since 1990. She has two adult sons, both of whom attended AUSD schools.”