Monrovia Schools to Put Collier on Leave

Times Staff Writer

Supt. Gwendolyn Collier, who says she resigned effective June 30 because the school board had not extended her contract, will be placed on a paid leave of absence beginning Jan. 1.

In a meeting Wednesday night, the Monrovia Unified School District board also named Don Montgomery, principal of Monroe Elementary School, as the interim superintendent for one year.

During the executive session, the board agreed to pay Collier's salary during the six-month leave, a move that will cost the district $30,500, said board President Sarah Koch.

Contract Amended

Koch said the board and Collier agreed to amend Collier's contract to settle philosophical and other differences concerning administration of the district, which serves 9,000 students and has an annual budget of $14 million.

Under her amended contract, Koch said, Collier will be paid monthly. If she gains permanent, full-time employment that pays less than her current salary, the monthly payments will stop and the district will make up the difference. If the pay is equal to or more than her current salary, the district payments will end one month after she starts the new job.

In an interview, Collier, 50, said that she resigned because the board had not extended her three-year contract.

Collier's seven-year tenure as superintendent has been marked by teacher unrest. In the past five years, teachers have walked off the job twice over protracted contract negotiations and have complained about low salaries and poor working conditions. This year, teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.

Began as a Teacher

Collier began her career in the district as a teacher in 1958 and advanced through the ranks, becoming a principal and then assistant superintendent for two years. She said she was pleased the board was giving her a paid leave of absence and that she has made no plans for the future.

Montgomery, 53, has been a principal in the district for 20 years, previously serving at Wild Rose and Santa Fe schools. He will be replaced at Monroe School by Vice Principal Joanne Spring.

Koch said Montgomery was chosen because he is the best person for the job.

"He is highly regarded and well known throughout the district and has shown leadership skills at his school, so we have a lot of confidence he can help us with employee relationships," she said. "But we will do a search for a permanent superintendent, both within and outside the district, and he will be considered for the permanent post."

Montgomery said he is interested in keeping the job he will assume on Jan. 1. He explained that although a year may seem long time to have an interim superintendent, it may take a long time to resolve problems in teacher contract negotations.

Needs Time

"We have to settle the contract (which has been under negotiation since February) and then begin negotiations for the new one," he said. "The contract problem is of such length and duration that six months is not enough time."

Montgomery, who has lived in Monrovia for 44 years, said it is a departure for a school board to name a principal rather than an administrator to an interim superintendent's post.

"Naming me means a complete change (for the district) because I am not part of the current administration," he said.

"I feel I can develop trust with the teachers because I have had good relations with them throughout the years. There is a morale problem so I will try to make the situation between administration and teachers more positive.

"We are at a stalemate in contract negotiations and we have to do something to get going in a positive direction. I hope I can bring stability to the district. This has been so hard on everybody."

Montgomery's salary as interim superintendent has not been decided, Koch said.

Casey Johnson, president of the Monrovia Teachers Assn., could not be reached for comment. Previously, he had said that relations between the teachers and Collier have been strained for years.

He said 43 of the district's 292 teachers left this year, most of them because they got better-paying jobs elsewhere. Statistics from the county Office of Education show that teacher salaries in Monrovia rank near the bottom of the 43 school districts in Los Angeles County.

Johnson also said that teachers have lodged protests over long hours and class size. But he said low salaries and working without contracts have been the most serious factors in hostility between teachers and the administration.

Teacher-administration discord was also an issue in the November school board election. The two newly elected members cited poor relationships between administrators and teachers, low teacher salaries and the need to reach accord with teachers as the top-priority matters.

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