Supervising the West Ada School District has never been easy.
There are too few dollars and a steadily growing number of students in the state’s biggest district.
Superintendents constantly go to taxpayers seeking more funding to build new schools or renovate old ones. And they need money to help cover the costs of rising day-to-day expenses that the state doesn’t cover. During the recession, West Ada had to cut classes, buses and instruction days while scrambling to keep its teaching corps.
But in the end, none of those played a role in Superintendent Linda Clark’s abrupt resignation Friday, which caught even the Board of Trustees — her bosses — by surprise.
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Instead, her exit was the final act in a four-month drama with a new board that says it is reform-minded and was elected to demand accountability. Clark and the trustees could not find a way to work together, and her departure comes as some citizens are mounting a drive to recall four of the five board members.
Clark said Friday that she resigned because negotiations with the board over her departure reached such a low point a few days ago that she couldn’t stomach the latest offer.
The longtime superintendent said that trustees, worried about the passage of a Nov. 3 levy that is key to paying to keep 40 teachers and nine days of instruction, wanted Clark to stay on for the next 11 days and resign after the vote. At least one trustee called that a falsehood.
The superintendent supports the two-year, $28 million levy, but not the offer she says the board made.
“For a pittance, the board would require that I play nice for the next two weeks.” she said. “I refused to be dishonest to this community for a few thousand dollars. I value my integrity and the trust of the community above all else.”
She leaves with no severance package.
Clark described the board’s treatment of her as a “witch hunt” and accused trustees of embarking on a strategy to “undermine and embarrass me and denigrate the past work of this award-winning district.”
She said the board never had substantive discussions with her about the district.
Russell Joki, one of two trustees elected in May, was an early critic of Clark’s contract and her involvement in nondistrict educational issues. He denied her account of the negotiations, the resignation or the request to remain superintendent until after the election.
“We have had truthful, honest discussions about important topics,” he said. “For Dr. Clark to say today that somehow she is being forced out is not true. We did not ask her to resign.”
Mike Vuittonet, a holdover member from the previous board and a Clark supporter, said the other trustees did push her out: “Absolutely. Unequivocally.”
He called Clark’s resignation “the worst-case scenario” for the district.
A RARE PUBLIC DISINTEGRATION
Clark was known as no-nonsense and often blunt. And she encountered some detractors, especially over the suspension of a popular teacher at Eagle High School in 2014. District officials said they could not discuss the reasons. The teacher later resigned.
Gary Harvey, who has students at Mountain View and Centennial high schools, said it was time for Clark to leave.
“Dr Clark did a fine job during those years. However, it is time for her to step down as superintendent of West Ada. The district needs a new perspective moving forward,” he said.
Amy Johnson, who has a son at Spaulding STEM Academy, said Clark was in a “horrible” position. “I thought Clark did a superior job,” she said. “She advocated well for the district, for the parents and kids.”
Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said he has rarely seen fraying relations between a board and superintendent play out as publicly as this case did.
“That should never occur,” he said. “I’m disappointed in this set of trustees and with this drama being played out.”
Clark is a highly respected educator in Idaho, Winslow said, who did a “marvelous” job in a position of leadership on Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education beginning in 2012. The task force became a key element in the state’s education reform by bringing all parties — teachers, trustees, parents and policymakers — to the table after voters repealed a bitterly controversial package of statewide education laws.
The task force work has led to more money for schools, a career ladder for teacher salaries and other innovations.
Otter also appointed Clark to the State Board of Education earlier this year. The governor declined comment Friday on her resignation.
A CAREER EDUCATOR
Clark came to the district 37 years ago as a principal at the newly opened Joplin Elementary School. After becoming superintendent 11 years ago, Clark saw the district expand by more than 9,000 students to 37,000. She’s played a role in constructing about a dozen schools, including construction that was financed by a bond that passed last March.
Clark brought more choice to the school district by creating magnets schools such as Christine Donnell School for the Arts, and Gateway School of Language and Culture, a school centered on the Chinese language.
In the mid-2000s, the district purchased the vacant Jabil Circuit building on Central Drive and transformed it into a complex with the district office, the district professional-technical center and eventually Renaissance High School, which offers the rigorous International Baccalaureate program that requires students to meet international standards of education. The district partnered with Idaho State University to put its Treasure Valley campus there as well.
Clark kept the district running — with no layoffs — during the Great Recession, when revenues and state school support plummeted, an accomplishment she cited in her resignation announcement Friday. “During that time,” she told 60 employees who gathered without invitation, “our district was recognized for its innovation and creativity and for doing more with less.”
Statesman reporters Anna Webb and Katy Moeller contributed.
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Questions remain following Clark’s resignation
How did this all start?
Voters elected two new board members in May who campaigned for more accountability and transparency. In the first few weeks, board members complained about Clark’s contract being bloated, questioned her appointment to the State Board of Education and shut her out of most executive sessions. Clark eventually talked with the board about negotiating her retirement, but resigned over what she called an offer that “literally made me ill.”
Is Clark considering legal action?
“Linda has not made any of those decisions,” said her Boise attorney, Erika Birch. “She truly wants to spend the next short while focusing on trying to help get the levy passed because she feels that is critical in helping the district get the resources it needs.”
Who is running the district?
Clark’s departure left trustees without time to appoint an interim superintendent, said trustee Russell Joki.
Board Chair Tina Dean declined to discuss Clark’s resignation but said the board would follow the state’s open meetings law in the selection of a temporary replacement. Come Monday morning, school will go on as planned, she said.
The board meets next at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the District Services Center, 1303 East Central Drive in Meridian, in the Salmon Room. The main agenda item is the Nov. 3 levy.
What did Clark leave on the table with her resignation?
Clark’s salary is $143,000 per year. Her benefits included an estimated $29,000 retirement bonus. Clark said she had a valid three-year contract; the board said that contract was improper and Clark had only a two-year contract. It’s moot now, because of Clark’s resignation.
What does this development do for the Nov. 3 levy?
Voters are being asked to renew a $28 million, two-year levy. The levy has paid for nine school days and 40 teachers the district was at risk of losing after the state cut education funding during the Great Recession. Discord in a district often leads people to oppose spending money, until the climate improves. On this issue, however, both Clark and the board are urging passage of the levy.
How will the resignation affect the proposed recall of four board members?
Difficult to tell. Christine Donnell, a former West Ada superintendent who is leading the effort, could not be reached for comment.
How did people react?
Social media comments to the Idaho Statesman were largely supportive of Clark. Here’s one: “Just last year Linda Clark worked to get computers for our students. We went from having seven or eight i-touches in a classroom to now having one laptop for every two students.”
What exactly does a superintendent do?
Superintendents act as a district’s CEO, answering to a board that has ultimate authority. The superintendent oversees personnel, as well as fiscal and educational programs, and is responsible for seeing that student performance improves and that money is properly spent.
What is the average tenure for a superintendent?
About three years, according to data from the Council of the Great City Schools. Clark was superintendent for 11 years.