SANTA CLARA -- Since a power shift in November, the Santa Clara Unified School Board has been accused of micromanaging, chiding and intimidating employees, usurping their roles and making abrupt decisions that muddled school operations.
Now, as the school year ends Friday, more than one-fifth of top staff, including Superintendent Bobbie Plough, two assistant superintendents and six principals, have decided to step down from their posts, many fleeing the once-respected district.
Critics blame the exodus on the board's involvement in day-to-day operations, including directly hiring staff and allegedly harassing parents and employees. Generally, California school trustees are supposed to set policy and direct the superintendent. But "when they try to do the job of administrators, it makes it impossible for us to do our job," said Mary Kay Going, an assistant superintendent who says she is reluctantly leaving the district after 26 years.
The controversy has spawned a Facebook page and a petition, with more than 1,500 signatures supporting a no-confidence vote for board members Christine Koltermann, Chris Stampolis, Ina Bendis and Michele Ryan. Stampolis and Ryan were elected in November.
Trustees deny they're overstepping. "We have a board who wants to ask more questions," board President Koltermann said. In a culture some might call insular, "it's a change and adjustment." And, she said, the
critics themselves scare away those who disagree with them.
Parent Bruce La Fetra is not alarmed: "I'd expect a lot of staff turnover following a 'throw the bums out' election like we had."
But former board candidate Anna Strauss disagreed. "The school district is just disintegrating before our very eyes."
Santa Clara had been a stable district, a place people joined out of college and stayed their entire careers. Its 23 schools perform better than average, when compared with districts with similar demographics: Santa Clara students are 36 percent Latino, 24 percent Asian, 22 percent white, 8 percent Filipino and 10 percent others.
But the district faces challenges on both ends of the academic spectrum. Its Latino students are among the lowest-