Hesperia Unified School District Ends McKinney’s Tenure As Superintendent

(December 21)   HESPERIA—Mark McKinney, whose head has been on and off the chopping block for the last three years as a consequence of the constant twists and turns brought on by conflicting and changing alignments on the Hesperia School Board, was terminated as superintendent on December 18 and reassigned for the remaining 18 months on his contract to serve as vice principal at Hesperia High.
The critical mass that ejected McKinney from the district’s top spot consisted of the troika of Hardy Black, who had previously seemed intent on relieving McKinney of his command but held off on pulling the trigger two months ago, and Ella Rogers and Cody Gregg, both of whom were elected to the school board in November and were just sworn into office this month.
Niccole Childs and Eric Swanson opposed McKinney’s demotion.
Gregg, a 21-year-old college student and national guardsman, and Rogers, who previously served on the board from 2006 until she failed to garner reelection in 2010, signed onto Black’s on-again, off-again effort to dislodge McKinney without articulating the precise grounds for the action. The firing was made “without cause,” such that the board has to make good on fulfilling the terms of McKinney’s contract, which runs through June 30, 2014.
McKinney began with Hesperia Unified as a teacher, promoted into administrative positions and leapfrogged into the interim superintendent’s post in August 2007, overseeing a district that includes all levels from kindergarten to 12th grade with an enrollment of 22,821 pupils at 30 schools when the  previous superintendent, Hank Richardson, went into early retirement. McKinney was subsequently made full-fledged superintendent, but was hamstrung in several respects because of personality conflicts on the board.
He had a hot and cold relationship with Black, along with other members of the board. As early as 2008, McKinney fell out of favor, at least temporarily, with Black. That difficulty was patched over, but McKinney then suffered a rocky relationship with another board member, Chris Bentley. In March 2009, Bentley placed a discussion item on the school board’s agenda about the “potential replacement of the superintendent.” He withdrew that item before the meeting took place, however.
In 2011, McKinney got crosswise of Black when he suspended former Hesperia Unified School District police chief Mike Graham after Graham and other district police officers objected to what they said were McKinney’s efforts to prevent the police department from investigating accounting irregularities in Sultana High School student government funds. An investigation into the matter determined that McKinney had moved to handle the matter pertaining to the missing funds administratively but had not, as the officers alleged, sought to obstruct justice. Black backed Graham when McKinney dismissed him as school district police chief but Bentley supported McKinney in having treated the matter as a personnel issue. Bentley said at the time that McKinney had the authority as superintendent to run the district as he saw fit.
In October, the pendulum had swung and Bentley was again gunning for McKinney. With the initial backing of board members Eric Swanson and Niccole Childs, Bentley sought to schedule a special emergency meeting  that was to take as its agenda discussion of the possible termination of McKinney along with three other district employees, Jovy Yankaskas, David McLaughlin and Karen Kelly.
Bentley was counting on the support of two of his colleagues, Black and Anthony Riley, who had  previously given indication that they would be open to replacing McKinney. Together, the three appeared to have the requisite political muscle on the five-member panel to hand McKinney a pink slip. At that point, however, Bentley was at direct political loggerheads with Black and Riley on other issues, blunting the prospect that they would coalesce into a majority to terminate McKinney, at least at that time. Before the meeting actually took place, it was cancelled.
Bentley was turned out of office in November and Riley did not seek reelection. Rogers, who like Black was a strong supporter of Graham, came into office with an animus toward McKinney. On December 12, the board had likewise considered McKinney’s continuing tenure with the district, but was unable to come to a consensus.
This week, with young Gregg’s support, McKinney was forced to relinquish the superintendent’s post.
Curiously, but in keeping with the contradictions and twists that have abounded in the district’s decision-making process, it was a matter pertaining to Kelly under McKinney’s watch that was in some quarters credited with having sealed McKinley’s fate. That matter was Kelly’s personal relationship with one of the district’s contractors in 2008, when she was serving as assistant superintendent of personnel services and the contractor was working for the district. As a consequence of that relationship,  she was suspended and then demoted twice in four months, with a $60,000 cut in her salary. She sued over gender discrimination and obtained a $500,000 settlement from the district as a result.  It was widely rumored, but not confirmed at press time, that Kelly was being considered as McKinley’s interim replacement.

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