Atwater Elementary School District board members placed Superintendent Melinda Hennes on paid administrative leave last week.
Board members won't reveal the reasons behind the action, taken in closed session during a special meeting Friday. The board voted 3-2 to place Hennes on leave, with board members Lena Mendoza, John Hall and Sheila Whitley in favor, and trustees Dale Wilson and Kelly Fincher opposed.
Hennes, 58, said it was a complete shock to her, and the news took her by surprise. "They have not given me a reason," she said.
Board president Lena Mendoza wasn't available for comment Monday, said Janet Woida, executive secretary at the district. However, she said Mendoza released a statement saying the board is not at liberty to comment on personnel matters because of the need for confidentiality.
"If there is a change in Mrs. Hennes' employment status, it will be announced at a public meeting," the statement read. Other district officials declined to provide a reason as to why Hennes was placed on leave.
Hennes' salary is $168,425, and her contract is up in 2014. She's been with the district for seven years.
Fincher said the board reported out of closed session after its January meeting that they had voted 5-0 to give Hennes a good evaluation. After that announcement was made, she said Mendoza verbally praised Hennes in open session for her performance over the past year.
"I am very sad and disappointed by the decision made by a majority of the board," Fincher said in a statement. "How three members of the board have now reached this decision is baffling to me and many members of our community."
She said in these tough economic times, it might be natural for people to conclude that Hennes was placed on leave for doing something wrong, adding that she wants people to know that in her opinion, Hennes hasn't done anything wrong.
"To the contrary, under her leadership our district has attained financial security and our test scores have significantly increased," she said. "The Atwater Elementary School District does not have any of the issues that most school districts are now facing, such as layoffs, elimination of bus services and, or the elimination of other services or special programs."
Fincher she said the timing of this decision is inexplicable.
"This decision was publicly reported out at a board meeting held on a Friday night -- not at a regular scheduled meeting -- when there were only three people in our audience," she said.
Schools in the district are administering standardized testing this week, she said. "Now, in addition to the stress that naturally flows from testing week, our principals, teachers and employees have to deal with the added stresses of the disruption that this decision has caused," she said.
Board member Hall declined to comment while Trustees Whitley and Wilson didn't respond to requests for comment.
Fincher said she invites all citizens who are disappointed and upset by this decision to attend the board's next meeting on May 8 to voice their opinions.
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources David Duran, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Martin Fregoso, and Assistant Superintendent for Education Services Michele McCabe will perform Hennes' duties as they continue in their own jobs.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org