Coup at School District Complete

After elections and pushing from teacher’s union, new supe takes over San Leandro schools By Steven Tavares
If you read the quotes carefully over the past months from San Leandro school district members, you would have guessed the reasons for the axing of former chief Christine Lim had more to do with a clash of personality than anything she did on the job.

“I think it is safe to say that the vast majority within our association is breathing a collective sigh of relief because we feel we now have a leader who proves, day in and day out, that she values transparency and teamwork,” San Leandro Teacher Association representative Mark Hamilton told the Daily Review.

“The climate has improved since she’s come on board. My hope is that she will continue to stay on,” San Leandro Board of Trustees President Mike Katz recently told the same paper.

The sense of relief since Lim’s dismissal in December has been pervasive, but not without a tinge petulance from a child who has just vanquished a monstrous boogie man from under their bed. After the school board’s first meeting after replacing Lim with newly-installed Superintendent Cindy Cathey, Trustee Morgan Mack-Rose described the atmosphere like night and day and said it was the most relaxed the board had ever been in her memory.

It is no surprise those close to the school board are so pleased with Cathey’s new two-year contract approved last week since the coup at the school district had been over two years in the making since Mack-Rose and Trustee Hermy Almonte ran specifically to oust Lim from the school district. Almonte’s victory, for one, was one of the more shocking upsets in recent memory when the aloof candidate who was fresh off a defeat for the city council defeated a well-known opponent for the seat. During the past month, both appeared overly enthusiastic to give Cathey the job before giving the public notice. During the same meeting, Almonte blurted he wanted to give Cathey a three-year contract.

By nearly all accounts, Cathey is seen as capable and popular with teachers and administrators, but there is some consternation over how the school district failed to identify any other candidates. One city official told The Citizen they had little problem with Cathey, but also said, “It is clear they found someone who they could mold however they wanted.”

At a meeting in December, while the public believed the fate of Lim was still left to be decided–it wasn’t, but the board failed to notify the public of Lim’s firing until January–the mindset of the teacher’s union was detailed by Hamilton, who described his previous teacher’s union experience in Southern California. “In L.A, we were instructed to tell the school board members to remember they were the superintendent’s boss, not the other way around.”

Taking a subservient role would never fly under Lim’s tenure. The gruff, six-year vet of the school district lacked warmth, many said, and butted heads with those her challenged her ideas, although other than her personality, few at the school district have been able to communicate Lim’s failings as an administrator. Yet, in the few months after her departure, Lim’s replacement already stumbled despite board members who say Cathey has hit the ground running.

Ealier this year, just after the school board made nearly $3 million in budget cuts, news slowly filtered out that the superintendent’s office had mistakenly overlooked $1.6 million shortfall in next year’s budget. The accounting error came under Cathey’s watch and she offered few details on how it happened or what would be done to stop it from happening again. Despite the enormity of the mistake, it is believed nobody paid a price for it. “If anybody made a big mistake like that anywhere else, they would have been fired,” said one city employee.

Cathey, for one, escaped unscathed and was elevated to the top job in the district. The board last week awarded her with a two-year contract earning just over $200,000-a-year. Lim is finally gone, the teacher’s union has its woman and the fate of San Leandro’s underperforming schools now rest firmly on their laps of the current school board.

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