FUSD chief put on leave after heated meeting

By Nancy Gutierrez

After a five-and-a-half hour-long meeting of the Farmersville Unified School District board and 350 disgruntled residents, the school board voted in a closed session to put Superintendent Janet Jones on paid leave pending an investigation.

No accusations of criminal activity or misconduct have been released as grounds for the investigation. The board has not publicly discussed the issue behind the sudden inquisition into Jones competency as superintendent. The matter seems to be revolving around the recent school board elections.

Jones publicly campaigned for the re-election of incumbent board members Al Vanderslice and Don Mason. Mason and Vanderslice lost the race to, now board president, Martin Macareno and member Blanca Sandoval. At the close of the elections in November it is reported that Macareno called for Jones' resignation.

Harold Wood a representative from the County Counsel, a legal entitiy that is now involved in the Farmersville situation, said education codes only prohibit the use of public funds, from a school for example, for campaigning purposes and prohibits political influence on employee matters, such as hiring only those applicants who are Democrats or Republicans. Wood said it is not illegal for Jones to express her first amendment rights and that superintendents around the county routinely support candidates on their own time.

Upon Jones' refusal to resign a series of unusual board decisions occured.

  • On Dec. 23 members met for a special board meeting. Agenda items included the appointment of an acting superintendent and an unspecified personnel action as well as retaining legal services from Burke, Williams and Sorensen, a Los Angeles based law firm. No action was taken on any of the items.

  • On Jan. 8 a second special meeting was held in which the board terminated its contract with the Fresno-based firm Lozano Smith and hired the previously mentioned L.A. law firm in a 4-1 vote.

  • On Jan. 13 at the regular school board meeting, member John Vasquez stated that secret meetings between the newly hired law firm and three members of the board were held to draw up a formal letter stating that all of the Farmersville board members were concerned with the presence of the grand jury at several Farmersville Board Meetings. The board voted 4-1 to send the letter to Tulare County Superior Court Judge Paul Vortmann, who appoints the grand jury.

    The morning of the Jan. 13 meeting students walked out of their classes in protest of the circulating allegations that the board was firing Jones at the coming meeting. The walkout was an indication of what board members could expect that evening.

    "If you're not working together then you are tearing apart a community," Farmersville resident Barbara Kemp said at the Jan. 13 meeting.

    The public comment portion of the meeting lasted close to two hours. Students, teachers and parents argued and spouted allegations of misconduct about administrators, board members and even other farmersville residents. Posters in support of the board or Jones filled the cafeteria at Snowden Elementary School, where regular board meetings are held. Representatives from the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) were present and asked that the community give the board members a chance to prove themselves.

    When the last comment was heard the board proceeded into regular business then went into closed session to decide the fate of the superintendent. At just after midnight the board returned with their decision, in a 4-0 vote (Vasquez abstained) to put Jones on paid administrative leave. Jones will still be paid her $110,000 salary throughout the investigation process. If the board decides to terminate Jones the district will have to pay the superintendent an amount equal to 18 months' salary. If during their investigation the board finds grounds for dismissal the district would be relieved of that stipulation.

    In a press conference last Wednesday morning Jones threatened to sue the board for the statements made about her.

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