Farmersville superintendent announces retirement

Dr. Paul Sevillano will retire in August after three years as superintendent and a 39-year career in public education

FARMERSVILLE – In the brief history of Farmersville Unified there have been six superintendents since the district broke away from Exeter High School in 1994. Only one of them served longer than Dr. Paul Sevillano who announced his retirement last week after three years of leading the district.

Sevillano announced his decision to staff in a May 18 email.

“I have made the decision to retire,” he wrote. “After 39 years of service in public education, and leading others, it’s time to enjoy the kind of flexibility in my life that will enable me to spend more time with my family and close friends.”

Sevillano came to the district from Southern California in August 2017 when he was appointed by the school board as assistant superintendent. He started his career as a teacher after earning his bachelor’s degree in history and physical education. After 13 years in the classroom and a master’s in education administration, he became the assistant principal at Huntington Beach Union High School for seven years. He took a similar position at Anaheim Union School District and eventually became the assistant superintendent after nine years there. Sevillano earned a doctorate in K-12 leadership and served as superintendent of the Baldwin Park Unified School District for the 2014-15 school year prior to coming to Farmersville. 

“The number of talented people that I had the honor to work alongside here in FUSD are too numerous to mention,” Sevillano said.

Farmersville Unified accomplished much during Sevillano’s three years at the helm, despite two years being interrupted by a global pandemic. During his first years as superintendent, Farmersville Unified implemented its long discussed dual immersion program, where Spanish speakers are taught to read and write English while English speakers are taught to read and write Spanish. Before the end of his first year, classrooms across the country went dark as districts transitioned to remote learning under an emergency stay at home order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in March 2020. In May 2020, Sevillano made the popular decision to allow students to decide what kind of alternative graduation ceremony they would like to have, given pandemic related restrictions. 

“I want to thank all administrators, teachers, staff and our Board of Education for their dedication to our school community and that each of you have contributed greatly to the success of the district,” Sevillano said.

Things started to sour for the superintendent during contract negotiations with the teachers union this year. Teachers, parents and community members have packed the boardroom since March to voice their concerns about pay, hostile work environment and administrative overreach. On March 4, the California Teacher Association (CTA) filed an Unfair Practice Charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), a quasi-judicial agency overseeing labor issues between public agencies and their employees, against the district and Sevillano. In the complaint, CTA alleges the administration allowed a district supervisor to discriminate against a special education teacher who was disciplined for parent complaints about a new schedule she warned would cause issues months earlier. 

The complaint also alleges Sevillano himself attempted to interfere with union activities after the teachers association was made aware of the work environment affecting its members by threatening to take action against those who participated. FTA issued a “Culture and Climate Survey” to union members about how the supervisor’s management practices affected their working conditions with the intention of bringing the survey to Sevillano to address the issues. On Nov. 4, Sevillano responded to the survey results in a district wide email saying the district office does not support a survey or any other efforts to publicly evaluate the performance of any individual. It went on to say any data received from such a survey would not be considered by the district as part of a teacher’s evaluation or “continuous improvement.”

“Any individual, groups, and or organizations that support public evaluation of an employee via a survey will be held accountable for their actions,” Sevillano said. 

The PERB case is in addition to heated negotiations between the teachers union and the district which reached an impasse earlier this month. Teachers point to large increases in administrative salaries just a few months earlier as a keystone to their argument for higher wages. Sevillano said Farmersville Unified had one of the lowest salary packages for administration/management and decided to correct those deficiencies last year. Three, first-year administrators were given raises between 8% and 16% and the remaining 26 administrators were given an average increase of 2.1%, which averaged out to 3.2%. 

In its negotiations with the Farmersville Teachers Association, the district offered teachers a 4% raise in addition to fully funded health and welfare benefits, and a $4,000 one-time stipend for concurrent instruction for the 2022-23 school year in addition to a $4,000 stipend for the 2021-22 year through a separate memorandum of understanding (MOU). 

On April 25, the teacher’s union declined the offer and countered with a salary increase of 5% instead of 4%. Sevillano said the district declined and filed for an impasse on May 2 with the PERB – a quasi-judicial agency overseeing labor issues between public agencies and their employees. The two parties began mediation this month. 

“We have no other comment on this actively litigated matter,” Sevillano said in a March 25 email to the Sun-Gazette.

Searching for a Successor

Sevillano’s tenure in town might seem brief, but in Farmersville, three school years is above average for most superintendents. Sevillano succeeded Randy DeGraw as superintendent following the 2018-19 school year. DeGraw retired in June 2019 after spending his entire 33-year career in education with Farmersville Unified. DeGraw was a beloved figure in Farmersville, the longtime principal of Hester Elementary, and was named acting superintendent in May 2016 following the termination of Ofelia Ceja-Lariviere. He was named the permanent superintendent in October 2016.

Sevillano is the longest tenured superintendent since Janet Jones, who retired in 2012 after leading Farmersville Unified for 18 years, and the district’s sixth superintendent in the last 10 years.  The list includes Dr. Christina Luna, whose contract was not renewed following the 2013-14 school year, Luis Castellanoz, the retired Tulare superintendent who worked from July to August of 2014, Ceja-Lariviere, who was officially superintendent from August 2014 through May 2016 and Janet Jones, when the retired superintendent returned to the district from January through May 2016 before handing the keys to DeGraw.

Farmersville began the work of selecting its next superintendent Thursday night, May 19, during a special board meeting. On the agenda was an $18,000 contract to hire Leadership Associates, an executive search and leadership development firm, to conduct the search for Sevillano’s replacement. The firm has worked with other local districts in the past including Earlimart, Lindsay Unified and Corcoran Unified. The firm laid out a timeline for the search process including releasing an online survey for the community later this month and conducting hearings with the public next month. The position would be advertised in trade publications by the end of June and the board would begin interviewing finalists in July. The goal would be to select a new superintendent at the board’s first meeting in August as the new school year begins in mid August.

“My effective retirement date will be August 9, 2022 to provide our Board of Education with sufficient time to find my replacement,” Sevillano said in his letter to staff.

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