EDUCATION//BERKELEY/HAYWARD | Berkeley’s newly-hired superintendent of schools, Dr. Donald Evans, missed an excessive number of schools days due to absences and vacations, while also attending a high number of education-related conferences around the country, costing his former employer–the Hayward Unified School District–over $16,000 in travel expenses, according to the documents obtained by The Citizen.

The records reveal Evans logged 50 absences in just over a year-and-a-half as Hayward’s superintendent. According to inside sources, the time away from the district office is an incredible amount of days to be missing for a superintendent. Critics, who would not speak on the record, say Evans should have spent more time in his struggling district–known as the most underperforming in Alameda County–instead of attending largely off-site conferences that didn’t directly serve the needs of HUSD. Conferences attended included the Superintendent’s Council Retreat, Leadership Summit and others.

Twenty-two days were related to conferences, six vacation days and eight sick days from November 2011, when Evans was named superintendent in Hayward, to December 2012, according to the documents. In addition, from January to February 2012, Evans missed 12 days that included 9 related to conferences and 3 vacation days. The documents do not include information from February to the end of his tenure in Hayward last month, but The Citizen has learned that after Evans’s contract was approved in Berkeley last May he took another week-long vacation.

Evans also coupled one of his conferences with another vacation, the records reveal. From June 21-27 of last year, Evans went on vacation to Washington D.C. and then attended the National Association of State Boards Education (NASBE) Leadership Summit from June 28-30 right after amounting to a total of 8 days missed in a row.

Although critics would not speak on the record, nearby San Lorenzo Superintendent, Dennis Byas, commented on Evans’s high rate of absences. Byas did not personally criticize Evans, but argued superintendents do not have time to spend at conferences or vacations. “Being a superintendent isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said Byas, who announced his retirement last month. “I don’t know what other superintendents are doing, but for me personally, I have way too many things going on for me to miss days. I can occasionally take a half or one day at the most for a conference and I usually only do that once or twice a year. I have meetings in Sacramento and other places, usually drive back to the district as soon as possible from any meetings. There are too many things going on in my district with my kids for me to be gone.”

Evans’s record compared to another nearby, but recently retired, superintendent, Cindy Cathey, in San Leandro, also reveals another stark contrast. Cathey hardly ever take a vacation day or attended conferences, “We had a hard time getting her to take a vacation,” said San Leandro school board member Diana Prola. She added missing an exorbitant amount of days for a superintendent, like Evans, is highly unusual.

Furthermore, Evans’s financial records submitted to the district, show his trips to conferences cost the district thousands of dollars. For example, Evans stayed at the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego for the Annual Education Conference and Trade Show (CSBA) in November 2011 for three nights costing $1,173. Other conferences racked up large expenses as well. The Superintendent’s Symposium in 2012 cost a total of $956 for the district, including hotel, room service, parking and breakfast.

The 2012 CSBA cost a total of $934.21 including dinners, room service, breakfast and lunch. But last year the CSBA was in San Francisco and could have been easily attended by car each day but, Evans opted to stay at the Marriott Hotel for one night costing the district hundreds of extra dollars. Evans claims that eye surgery he had four months prior to repair an eye flap made it dangerous for him to drive at night (six sick days were understandably taken to recover from the surgery). Evans stresses that after LASIK surgery his vision would get a little “weird,” but critics were not buying it, “he could just not gone or taken a cab,” they said.

In all, between November 2011 and February 2013, all conferences, as well as some business lunches and small miscellaneous expenses, added up to a whopping $16,156.69 for the district. In the larger sea of the district’s deficit, projected to be $6 million, it may seem small, but for a board that’s been pushing to make financial cutbacks, especially with consultant contracts, the thousands spent by Evans could have been better utilized to help stave off further deficit spending, according to sources.

Evans says he was “bummed,” when he found out about criticisms about his absences. “I go to conferences because I have too,” exclaimed Evans, “and at NASBE I went because I was taking a leadership role.” Evans defended himself further by claiming that he gets invited to a lot of conferences that he doesn’t accept, but added he “attended conferences the first year because I was a new superintendent.” One critic of Evans did say when new to the superintendent job it wasn’t entirely irresponsible to attend some conferences early on but constrained them to just a few, once he settled in. Also, critics added that the Promise Neighborhood conferences were probably worth attending after the district received a federal grant for the program. But this leaves most of his conference visits to speculation if they served any real worth to the district or were just a drain on its resources.

Evans’s departure from the district after spending just a mere 20 months raised questions about what kind of legacy does he leave. Critics say very little and believe his high absences and inability to foster significant change is their evidence. But his supporters say he is a collaborative individual who had a hard time working with a board that one supporter called “authoritarian,” and that Evans expected change too quickly.

But Evans won’t say why he is leaving and often laughs nervously when asked. However, according to one inside source close to the board says Evans told them he left because Hayward was too difficult for him to tackle with too much drama. Evans doesn’t expect Berkeley to require of him to be the kind of change agent needed in Hayward, said the source.

However, Evans may find Berkeley to be a daunting challenge. The district has one of the worst achievement gaps between African American and Caucasian students in the state. In fact, Berkeley’s African American students are some of the lowest performing students compared to other African American students at other California school districts. Evans’s first day in Berkeley was Monday.

According to Berkeley School Board’s President Karen Hemphill, the board was looking for someone to not only close this gap, but who can collaborate with their board and bring community outreach. The board has praised Evans’s town halls even though almost no one attended them. Hemphill also praised Evans’s involvement in the Measure G parcel tax because the school board also plans to pursue renewal of the Measure A parcel tax that expires in 2017. The Berkeley school district also wants to focus on careers in tech they say Evans played a role in implementing in Hayward.

However, Hemphill would not comment on Evans’s high absence rate nor the amount of money expended in his travels. “That part of the interview process is confidential,” said Hemphill. But Hemphill added that in the contract between the district and Evans he can’t attend a conference without approval by her.

Hemphill said through their vetting process they mainly received high praise for Evans. However, when interviewing the Hayward school board they visited only one board member, Lisa Brunner, who is a known supporter of Evans. But according to sources, the other two board members who served with Evans during his entire tenure, Board President William McGee and board member Luis Reynoso, both who were disappointed with Evans’s job performance in Hayward, were never interviewed.

But the Berkeley school board is happy with their selection and, according to Hemphill, Evans had been looking for an opportunity to work in Berkeley for some time and his experience in Hayward afforded him that chance when Berkeley’s negotiations with their former superintendent pick, Edmond Heatley, fell through after it was discovered he supported Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriages.

Evans’s tenure in Hayward may be looked back on with controversy but Hemphill doesn’t seem so concerned. With exuberance for Evans’s arrival, Hemphill declared her confidence in Evans, “We have confidence that he will do good work for our district.” As for the criticisms though, that’s hearsay, she says.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_