Superintendent asks for contract buyout

John Perales is shown here. He is the new superintendent of the San Benito High School District.

More than a dozen people lauded the San Benito High School District trustees’ decision to hire Superintendent John Perales about two years ago and asked them to keep him in that role before board members adjourned to a closed session where they were set to evaluate the top administrator.

During public comment at the special meeting, held Tuesday, Perales referenced a conversation with Board President Ray Rodriguez last Friday, where he was told to set a closed session meeting for his evaluation and that the school’s lawyer would be present.

Perales said he loved the students, staff and culture of the school but added he had hired his own lawyer to ask the district for a complete buyout of his contract, the superintendent said.

“I felt that we were at a point of no return,” he said. “We were at a point of not being able to get along, which is embarrassing because we’re all adults.”

In the past, there have been evaluations without a lawyer present, explained Katherine Foster, the President of the San Benito Teachers Association, in a conversation with the Free Lance after the meeting.

“If it were only going to be an evaluation of the superintendent, there would be no need to have a lawyer,” Foster said.

The role of a lawyer is to look at how to fire him or break contract, she said. The three methods the district could use to break a contract include buying out the remainder of the contract; showing he was not doing the job or fulfilling his side of the agreement; and making him so miserable he leaves, Foster told the Free Lance.

Public speakers didn’t say Perales was perfect but highlighted improved staff morale, a better school culture, a more focused administration team, and his accessibility to staff, parents and students. Trustee Steve DeLay also read a letter penned by Monica Rodriguez, the wife of the board president, during public comment. In that letter Rodriguez said it cannot be normal for a board member to receive communication from the superintendent at all times, even while on vacation.

“This is not healthy for the board president or any board members to continue in this path,” the letter explained.

Trustees, including Ray Rodriguez, are prohibited from speaking during public comment.

The relationship between trustees—who hold the power to hire and fire the superintendent—and the top administrator was markedly tense in January, when the district paid $3,000 for a consultant-led workshop to sort out communication break-downs between the two parities.

Trustees extended the public comment during the meeting this week, which is typically restricted to 15 minutes, to allow each of the 15 speakers to talk.

Those taking the podium included Katherine Foster, the president of the San Benito High School Teachers Association; Rob Zimmerman, the district’s manager of maintenance, operations and facilities; several Future Farmers of America teachers; and Perales. Teacher Tom Rooth praised Perales for negotiating a raise for teachers, bringing air conditioning to classrooms and communicating with staff and students every day. The teacher didn’t agree with all his decisions but applauded the superintendent for getting things done, he said.

“Mr. Perales represents a paradigm shift,” Rooth said. “I’d like to see him stay in place.”

Following the public comment, trustees convened to closed session.

At about 7:45 p.m. trustees emerged and reported no action had been taken in closed session, the board president told the Free Lance. Under the Brown Act, trustees must report actions taken in closed session, including changes to a contract with a superintendent.

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