Morongo Valley Unified Superintendent Baumgarten Takes Unexplained Leave

TWENTYNINE PALMS—Tom Baumgarten, whose steady-handed guidance of the Morongo Valley Unified School District in the aftermath of the forced exodus of former superintendent Cecelia English in 2014 and the scandal over the Hope Academy charter school’s misappropriation of public funds in 2015 has been highly lauded, has taken a leave of absence.
No reason for Baumgarten’s absence was provided when the school board on Wednesday temporarily elevated assistant superintendent of human resources Doug Weller to serve as acting superintendent.
Baumgarten, who had been assistant superintendent of student services, was appointed interim superintendent in June 2014, in the immediate aftermath of controversy relating to a move to provide superintendant Cecelia English with a 5.77 percent raise over the $175,000 annual salary conferred upon her the previous year when she left as the director of academics at the Newark School District in Northern California to replace the previous superintendent, Jim Majchrzak.
The 2013 decision to hire English had occurred on a bare majority 3-2 vote, and the greater degree of trust and comity Baumgarten had with the board was generally seen as substantive improvement in the district in terms of function and teacher morale.
The school board dropped the “acting” prefix from Baumgarten’s superintendent title in February 2015. Later that year, Baumgarten initiated an inquiry, which led to a full audit, of Hope Academy Charter School and its executive director, Jared Mecham. Hope Academy had been sponsored by the Morongo Valley Unified School District. That audit further uncovered and documented multiple fiscal irregularities, questionable expenditures, nepotistic arrangements and inappropriate related-party transactions at the charter school. Baumgarten said his suspicions had been raised after he learned that Mecham had expanded Hope Academy’s operations into several adjacent and distant districts located in San Bernar-
dino, Kern and Riverside counties without the district’s express permission or knowledge, despite a requirement that any proposed expansion for a new independent study resource center outside the district’s boundaries would be explicitly communicated to the Morongo Valley District.

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