Amidst jeering and booing from the crowd, Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board President John Crabtree read a statement of action taken during May 7’s closed session. In a 5-2 vote , VUSD Superintendent Dr. Todd Oto was ousted.
Crabtree, along with Trustees Juan Guerrero, Bill Fulmer, Niessen Foster and Walta Gamoian, voted in favor of the dismissal, with Trustees Joy Naylor and Lucia Vasquez voting against.
“Under his leadership, the district has developed a strong foundation for teaching and learning that will bring long term growth in reading, mathematics and college and career readiness,” said Crabtree in his statement.
According to a VUSD press release, “The Board of Trustees intends to appoint Dr. Tamara Ravalín as acting superintendent at its meeting on May 14. Dr. Ravalín currently serves as the assistant superintendent of Human Resources Development for the District. She has served in public education for over thirty-five years including as assistant superintendent of Educational Services for the Kings County Office of Education and Dean of Student Services for the College of the Sequoias.”
When Crabtree finished speaking, more shouting came from the audience before it began clapping for Oto, who gave a statement to the attendees.
“This is a tough night for everybody here and I’m sure it’s a tough night for you folks as well,” he began. “I’ve had an incredible career here in this organization.”
Oto has spent 32 years at VUSD as a teacher, vice principal, principal, and superintendent.
“Although I am sad to be leaving the district I have called home for my entire career, I know that I will leave behind an organization ready for future challenges and able to meet the needs of the children of Visalia,” said Oto.
The Visalia Times-Delta reported that the crowd applauded Oto for almost 20 minutes. “A crowd of supporters — numbering in the dozens —couldn’t save the superintendent’s job. They chanted ‘you’re making a mistake’ as the board announced their decision. Many wept. Administrators sobbed.”
In Crabtree’s press release today he said,“Dr. Oto will continue serving the District in an advisory role until June 11, 2019, his final day of service. The Board is committed to working with its faculty, staff and all constituents to continue moving forward in a positive direction and strengthening the educational opportunities that our District provides for all of our children. Dr. Ravalín and Dr. Oto will continue to work closely together during this transition phase to ensure the transition in leadership is smooth and focused on the future.”
Ravalin is in charge as an interim superintendent of VUSD as of today. It was agreed that Oto will be paid through June 2020 even though his contract runs through 2021.
A search for Oto’s permanent successor is anticipated to be a lengthy process.
Oto’s termination came during scrutiny of the district’s controversial discipline plan, low test scores for elementary and middle schools, and many other public criticisms of the district.
Tulare County Deputy Superintendent for Administrative Services and former VUSD Superintendent Craig Wheaton offered his thoughts.
“I think it’s a really bad time for the community. I feel saddened being a long term member of the community seeing a superintendent and board part ways at a very inconvenient time for the community and for the school district,” said Wheaton. He had hoped the board would take a more measured approach to the problem as opposed to having the superintendent step down.
“School districts always have challenges and it’s a little extreme to meet this challenge and to change your superintendent at this time of the year,” said Wheaton.
He also said that, as superintendent, it was difficult trying to find the right direction with a seven -member board, community members, and parents. Wheaton further emphasized that teachers and administrators respected Oto and his work. He believes that the board created an issue for itself.
“Visalia Unified is in good hands. There’s not a financial crisis. There’s not any real crisis except for they decided to part ways with their superintendent, which created the crisis,” said Wheaton. “I hope whatever they do next is something that really does bring people together and constructively tackles the challenges that are there.”
Wheaton had a 14-year career with VUSD before moving to Tulare County Office of Education. Oto took over from Wheaton as interim superintendent in 2016.
Board Member Bill Fulmer provided some clarity about the board’s decision.
“This was not some stroke of lightning yesterday, this has been an ongoing discussion for quite some time, including Dr. Oto. We have terribly low test scores. We’ve had problems with programs and problems with personnel,” said Fulmer.
He was one of the board members who voted yes on Oto’s dismissal.
“I was elected to make decisions and I made a decision. There’s nothing arbitrary about it,” said Fulmer. He also wanted to be clear it wasn’t a personal decision.
“There’s no one who doesn’t like Dr. Oto and there’s no one who doesn’t respect him,” said Fulmer. “He just didn’t get the job done.”
Crabtree wrote, “Dr. Oto also led the District to a stronger career technical education program and successfully passed Measure A, which will bring $105,000,000 in school modernization projects and a new high school to our community.”
The Visalia Unified School Board’s next meeting is May 14 at 7 pm at 5000 W. Cypress Avenue, Visalia, CA.