Central Unified board members voted 4-3 to terminate superintendent Mark Sutton’s contract with the district, effective immediately, during a tense meeting Tuesday night at Central High School’s east campus.
Board president Cesar Granda announced the decision after the closed session that Sutton was terminated without cause. Granda, Ruben Coronado, Richard Solis and Rama Dawar voted yes, and Phillip Cervantes, Richard Atkins and Terry Cox voted no. Sutton is set to go on paid administrative leave until March 11, when he will no longer be superintendent, Granda said.
(Note: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that Solis voted no and Atkins voted yes.)
Parent Wendy Yribarran started a change.org petition on Monday that garnered over 500 signatures in less than 24 hours. The petition asked the community to support renewing Sutton’s contract, which was set to end June 30. The petition also raised allegations that five board members “colluded in private” to terminate Sutton despite overwhelming community support.
Jeff Yribarren, husband of Wendy Yribarren, said although there are rumors about why Sutton was terminated, the community is still largely in the dark.
"There's no big smoking gun in the public record that he's done that would warrant his dismissal," he said. “All of a sudden, the first time it's on the agenda, they magically terminate him for no reason, without any cause.”
Jeff Yribarren said a recall process is in motion and community supporters will keep looking into what legal action they can take.
"It's so obvious what's going on here,” Jeff Yribarren said. “This is an example of the worst thing that can happen in local politics. You get a small minority that colludes together and works themselves into power and they don't listen to the people that got them there."
Yribbarren also dislikes that the district will have to continue to pay Sutton until June 30, but he won’t be working. “They are putting our district in disarray and damaging the kids,” he said.
Wendy Yribarren said the board’s decision didn’t make sense to her or other parents at the meeting on Tuesday. “The people came out and expressed how much they loved the superintendent and overwhelmingly let them know that they wanted to keep (him), and the board decided to not listen to the people in any way, shape or form,” she said.
On Tuesday Sutton declined to be interviewed, saying through a district representative that he needed to talk to his attorney to review contract terms before he could make any statement.
His paid leave began immediately after the board announcement, so Sutton did not show up to his office on Wednesday.
This is not the first time Sutton has been ousted as a superintendent — he left Selma Unified in February 2015 in a strikingly similar fashion. Despite community support, the board voted 3-2 to terminate him. Board members did not discuss why Sutton was axed at the time, though many suspected longtime tensions with the board president were the reason.