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Highly paid Centinela superintendent placed on leave

A local schools superintendent who attracted scrutiny for receiving $674,559 in pay last year was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday by the Board of Education that had approved his compensation terms.

The Centinela Valley Union High School District board voted 5-0 to place Supt. Jose Fernandez on leave during a hastily called evening meeting conducted behind closed doors at the Centinela Valley Center for the Arts. Notice of the meeting was posted online 24 hours before it began, according to the head of the teachers union and others.

Fernandez, reached Thursday morning, said the board asked him to step down “while they conduct a review.” He added:  “I’m just disappointed that I wasn’t able to work out an agreement with them.”

Assistant Supt. Bob Cox said the board took its action "pending an investigation" but that the board offered no further details. Board members could not be reached Thursday morning.

Fernandez’s earnings last year surpassed the compensation of those leading the nation’s largest school systems. New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina oversees the nation’s largest district, with 1,700 schools and more than a million students. Her pay is $412,193.

Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy made $393,106 last year running the nation’s second-largest school system.

Supt. Jose Fernandez's South Bay school district has 6,600 high school students spread across three campuses and two small alternative programs.

Fernandez said his 2013 compensation was inflated by a one-time supplement of $230,000 that he had used to purchase seniority in state retirement systems. That action will allow him to collect a higher annual pension when he retires. But he also acknowledged that his base salary has risen sharply. His received the generous contract, he said, because he agreed to take control of the school system at a risky time, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Centinela is no longer rated as financially unstable.

The superintendent’s pay details sparked widespread criticism when they surfaced in stories by the Daily Breeze, which also first reported Wednesday night’s action.

In response to the furor, Fernandez had agreed to surrender a portion of his future compensation but did not specify exact dollar amounts he would forgo. In earlier interviews, he and board President Maritza Molina said they hoped to work out an adjusted contract by the regular board meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

But pressure on district officials did not abate. Union and community leaders started discussing a recall election targeting the Board of Education.

“If they have finally seen the light and move to remove him we might reassess the situation,” said teachers union President Jack Foreman.


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