Supt. Hugh Cameron survived a surprise move to oust him last week but acknowledged afterward that the narrow 3-2 vote of confidence he received from the South Bay Union High School District board could damage his long-range ability to serve the three-city district.
Cameron’s dismissal was sought by first-term board member Armando Acosta, who stunned the superintendent and fellow board members by reading a four-page statement of concerns in which he branded the superintendent “an expert wheeler-dealer (and) shrewd negotiator” who has not served as “the educational leader sorely needed by our district.”
Specifically, Acosta criticized Cameron’s personnel and salary-setting recommendations, his performance on issues arising from the sale of major portions of Aviation High School to a private developer and a new proposal by the five-year superintendent to sell a portion of the east end of the Redondo Union High School campus “after the ink (is) barely dry on the (Aviation sales agreement).”
“I sincerely believe that the superintendent has lost sight of his educational duties as superintendent of a major district in the South Bay,” said Acosta. “We need a superintendent who will keep his mind on education and improving our district programs.”
Although the vote at Wednesday’s meeting was close, the three board members who supported the superintendent did so unwaveringly and sharply criticized Acosta for his tactics.
Meanwhile, Cameron, face flushed but impassive during the debate, rebutted Acosta’s charges point by point after the meeting.
Of the Redondo Union property, Cameron said he has prepared a plan to sell four to eight acres of the 48-acre campus if it should be determined that the district needs cash to make capital improvements at Redondo and Mira Costa high schools.
“I’m supposed to bring them (the board) options and they are then the ones who select those options or reject them,” Cameron, 55, explained.
No Plan to Resign
Cameron--who has worked for the district for 32 years--indicated no plans to resign, saying, “I serve at the pleasure of the board.” He added, though, that he intends to reassess the depth of his support among staffers and parents throughout the district, which covers Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.
“If I would be a useless superintendent,” Cameron said, “I’ll have to do some deep thinking on what I ought to do.”
In recent years, the district has been beset by festering issues--budgetary shortfalls, political controversy over the closing and subsequent sale of the 27-year-old Aviation High School campus and low scores by students on state tests.
But as the standing-room-only crowd looked on late Wednesday, board members Josh Fredricks, Noel Palm and William Beverly expressed anger at Acosta’s motion--which came just before a vote on whether to raise Cameron’s salary from $53,000 a year to $61,461.
Beverly termed Acosta rude and discourteous for not privately informing board members of his plans before the session; Palm labeled Acosta’s charges minsinformed and inaccurate, and Fredricks suggested that Acosta was grandstanding for the public.
Acosta and fellow board member Lyn Flory made up the minority, seeking to assign Cameron at his current $53,000 salary to another position within the district.
Despite its vote to retain Cameron, the board agreed to table action on his salary increase.
To Acosta, a particular problem has been the board’s failure to implement an annual evaluation procedure for Cameron, so it is unable to hold him “accountable for the comprehensive improvements needed in the district.”
Fredricks criticized Acosta for not providing board members with a specific set of evaluation standards during his 15 months on the board, and Acosta replied that he urged the board in January, 1984, to establish such a program but his motion was rejected.
Concerned About Sale
Flory, who wavered for several moments before casting her vote, appeared particularly concerned about the possible land sale at Redondo Union High.
“That was a shock,” said Flory. “My eyes crossed, and I was saying, ‘Wait a minute, we just got out of the business of real estate.’ ”
Cameron brought up the land sale during a sparsely attended board meeting a month ago but said he did not seek to publicize it further for fear it would become a major issue in the Redondo Beach municipal election campaign.
The advice, he said, was given to him by then-high school principal Jerry Goddard, who was running for mayor. Goddard, who has strongly supported such development projects as the district’s failed plans to sell its entire Aviation campus for an office park, was defeated last week by incumbent Barbara Doerr. The mayor backed a successful initiative that saved about one-third of the 40-acre North Redondo campus for city recreational facilities.
Cameron gave few details on the possible sales plan, except to say that the baseball field and tennis courts on land that would be sold would first be replaced with similar facilities closer to classroom buildings. Cameron said he would present a full plan after Redondo Beach’s May 14 runoff election for three City Council seats.
Before the vote, a handful of audience members praised Acosta for confronting Cameron. But others, including Gary Hartzell--recently appointed to take over as principal at Mira Costa in July--were highly critical.
Hartzell said he was miffed at Acosta’s suggestion that Cameron recommended him for the post by “the good-old-boy method (of selecting) certain in-house proteges and total disregard for the recommendations of . . . educational experts.” Although Cameron recommended him, Hartzell reminded the crowd, the board made the appointment.
“The rules of the game are that the majority rules,” he said, labeling Acosta, “a guy who is going to take the ball and go home because he has lost.”
What’s more, Hartzell added, it was Acosta who had urged him months ago to apply for the principal’s post at Redondo Union (which Goddard was quitting to return to classroom teaching).
Acosta also complained that Cameron did not fairly present the offers of several developers who had bid for the Aviation property last year; that he misrepresented the views of high school coaches when he urged the school board to cancel all athletic and extracurricular activities last summer because of a cash flow problem (the programs were saved when the board and local City Councils arranged emergency financing); that he allowed his staff members to recruit potential school board candidates both on and off school time, “hence having employees selecting their bosses,” and that he spoke insensitively about the district’s low scores on a state testing program.
Acosta further questioned Cameron’s involvement in his own “extraordinary contract extension” last January, whereby the superintendent received a two-year extension about 18 months before his contract was to expire.
In response, Cameron said that the district’s real estate broker, and not he, dealt with Aviation bidders (and the broker did so even-handedly, he added) and that he had ordered school employees to stop recruiting board candidates while on school grounds. Cameron also denied that he misrepresented the views of coaches when he said they had unanimously approved of the cancellation of sports programs, and he said his comments had been taken out of context when he named the “beach life style” as a reason for low scores on state tests.
Cameron added that it is not uncommon for superintendents to receive contract extensions and when board members suggested it, “I was appreciative.”
“I think I’ve lost (some) credibility tonight,” Cameron said. He maintained, though, that he has served as a strong voice for education.
“Ask anybody I’ve worked with, the decisions I make are for the good of the kids.”
Before the debate of Cameron, the board approved a salary hike of 10% for other management employees, adjusted retroactively to July, 1984, and an 11% increase effective in July. The board has approved hikes amounting to 10% for teachers since last summer and another 11% effective this coming summer.