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School superintendent with unusually high compensation fired

Centinela school board votes to fire highly compensated superintendent

The Centinela school board voted Wednesday to dismiss Supt. Jose Fernandez, who came under the scrutiny of the FBI and Los Angeles County district attorney's office this spring for a compensation package that exceeded $750,000 last year.

The five board members of the Centinela Valley Union High School District voted unanimously, as they had in July, to begin Fernandez’s dismissal proceedings. They had previously hired a third party to investigate his pay and other issues.

“I'm happy it's come to this,” said Patrick Holmes, a former student of the district and a resident of El Camino Village. "I think the board did what was needed to be done.... He should pay the consequences for that."

Addressing the board, Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn. President Jack Foreman said his members were pleased that Fernandez was being let go, but added: "We are still shell-shocked by this.... Many of our members are still angry."

He said he suspects that board members didn't fully understand Fernandez's contract when they approved it. The document outlines compensation for stipends, salary, vacation days and more.

"They did not do their due diligence," Foreman said in an interview. "They should not have approved his contact without scrutinizing it."

Fernandez was suspended with pay in April. He had initially offered to forgo some of his compensation, but it’s not clear whether that occurred after he was suspended.

Bob Cox, previously the assistant superintendent of human resources, was appointed to serve as interim superintendent. He said that Fernandez had responded to the board in a letter received Tuesday, though he declined to disclose its contents. 

Cox said the search for a new superintendent would begin soon, starting with a call for proposals from firms to help with the process.

Fernandez’s unusually high compensation was in part the result of a one-time payout of $230,000 he used to increase his pension credits, which would give him a higher annual pension upon his retirement. In addition, he received a steep raise.
 
The district enrolled 6,637 students at three campuses and two small alternative programs in the 2012-13 school year.
 
During that time, Fernandez made more money than superintendents leading the nation’s largest school districts: Carmen Marina,  the New York City chancellor, earned $412,193 to oversee more than a million students in 1,700 schools; Supt. John Deasy, who is responsible for more than 655,000 students at more than 1,000 schools in Los Angeles Unified, was paid $393,106.
 
Fernandez said in previous interviews that he received the bump in compensation because he took the risk of leading the district when it was on the verge of bankruptcy and brought it back to health.

Critics say the money could have been better spent preserving other positions and programs that were cut in the wake of the economic recession.

Foreman said the school board has since been taking "proactive steps to correct the situation," including bringing back teachers who had been laid off, as well as restoring summer school and other classes.

Fernandez's compensation came under fire when the Daily Breeze reported on it.

The former superintendent's contract was slated to expire June 30, 2016. His dismissal for cause allows the district to avoid an expensive buyout.

Twitter: @haydensaraa

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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