Jim Enochs is enjoying his retirement.
The former Modesto City Schools superintendent has read 147 books since he retired two years ago. He spends time tending to his rose garden.
Would he come back to "rescue" the district from its severe financial, employee morale and public confidence challenges?
"I love retirement. I don't need that turmoil," said Enochs, 74.
Rumors are flying that a secret group of educators is working to restore Enochs' leadership by discrediting his successor, Superintendent Arturo Flores.
School board President Steve Grenbeaux calls it the "stealth group." Members are thought to include retired educators, current and former employees, and elected trustees.
"If it wasn't so stupid, it wouldn't be so laughable," Enochs said. "It's more of the paranoia that pervades the district."
No one admits belonging to a group intent on unseating Flores, and accusers acknowledge that they lack evidence.
But rumors are running thick, with nine people seeking election next month to four seats on the district's board of trustees.
Dysfunction at the district's highest levels, moreover, could have lasting consequences for a body that commands a $250 million budget and educates 30,000 students.
The suspicion is that a line has been drawn between Enochs disciples and Flores allies, a battle for power between the old guard and those advocating change. Former and current employees allegedly meet for breakfast or rounds of golf to chat about Flores' downfall, according to some, including Trustee Kim Spina and Grenbeaux.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there -- the old guard is only having one side of the story," said Grenbeaux, who also served on the board during Enochs' tenure.
For instance, one common complaint from Flores opponents is that he spends too much time schmoozing community members or visiting schools. But Grenbeaux points out that trustees require Flores to be more visible in the community than was Enochs.
"I think if they look at the test scores, they have to admit Arturo has done well. His ideas and change have worked well," Grenbeaux said.
Grenbeaux noted that it's a tall task to step into the shoes of a longtime superintendent during such a tumultuous financial time. Enochs served for two decades; the average tenure for superintendents is three to five years.
Flores didn't want to comment on the discord, but he said his "role and responsibility is to focus on making sure parents are happy, kids are learning and making sure our primary focus is quality of education."
'There is strife'
Whether or not a stealth group exists, serious external and internal conflicts have burst into the open in recent months. Some employees fear their work phones are monitored, so they use their cell phones instead -- even for work-related business.
"There is strife," said Connie Chin, who served on the board from 1999 to 2007.
She denied the existence of a stealth group, as did others.
"I have some feelings, but I don't want to make a comment," former Trustee Odessa Johnson said. "I'm not going near that mess."
The conflict came to a head this spring when then-Deputy Superintendent Debbe Bailey was put on leave and eventually removed from her role as chief business official after Flores said he no longer trusted her.
Trustee Cindy Marks, an Enochs supporter, recently was warned that she could be censured partly because of her past conversations with Bailey as well as Marks' efforts to contact district employees without informing Flores.
"There's nothing I've done in public that doesn't show that I didn't support what (Flores has) done," Marks said. "I've sympathized with employees that have been frustrated by the leadership style of Flores, but I've never brought any information forward except" in closed-door meetings with trustees.
Many say the clashes are a symptom of change, that employees and community members are adjusting to a new superintendent with a markedly different leadership style.
Enochs is described as decisive, a "one-man show" and "the boss." Flores, previously an assistant superintendent at Sacramento City Schools, seeks broad input before he makes decisions. He focuses on guidelines and protocols. Both have big egos that are displayed in different ways, said several former and current employees and trustees.
Enochs' supporters say the Flores camp is paranoid to think there's a stealth group. Flores' proponents say people were working from the first day to discredit him.
"I think in reality, people tried very hard to make it work with (Flores)," said Bailey, an Enochs supporter whose contract was bought out after more than 20 years in the district. "But now, I think there is a group that would like to see him gone. I don't think it was at that level until he took those actions against me -- it had gone beyond a difference in philosophy, it had become vindictive."
Concerns began early
Grenbeaux suspects any organized opposition to Flores started early, when the board decided not to include Enochs in the selection process for his successor. That upset Enochs, Grenbeaux said, but Enochs disagrees.
"This may seem immodest, but no one in the community knows as much about Modesto City Schools as I do," Enochs said. "I think the board was sensitive that people thought, 'Enochs is in control of the board,' so they wanted to do it alone. It didn't anger me, but I thought it was stupid."
After an April review of Bailey's e-mails, administrators uncovered strings of correspondence between Bailey and Marks, Enochs' former secretary Pat Nan, and teachers union officials that dated to July 2007, the month Flores took over.
In them, Bailey expresses concern over some of the district's financial decisions. She and Nan also claim in the e-mails that Flores is never in the office and can't write his own letters.
Former Trustee Paul Neumann runs into retired or current educators around town. Although he encounters dissatisfaction with the district's decisions, Neumann said, he doesn't know of organized opposition to Flores.
He said he sees many parallels between today's discord and what existed when he was elected to office in 1985. Employees and community members were clamoring for change and thought the board was rubber-stamping everything staff suggested.
"It's an unhappy situation. I don't see the board moving in a direct, forthright way to stem that criticism," he said. "A superintendent needs support, but trustees also need to be critical. You can do both -- it's loyal opposition."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339. Read Michelle Hatfield's education blog at thehive.modbee.com/ ExtraCredit.