Clovis News

Clovis schools face new challenges for next leader

The game of superintendent pingpong continues in Clovis Unified, as it has since the great bloodletting of 1990 led to the ouster of patriarch Doc Buchanan.

In a district where high test scores and successful athletic teams are expected and folks cling to the Clovis Way of Life, the big question always is: insider or outsider?

And while you need a scorecard to keep track of Buchanan's successors, the hiring pattern should be discernible to even casual observers: Every outside hire has been followed by an insider.

David Cash, who came from Southern California, is now the second outside hire to exit after barely unpacking his suitcase. The first was David Sawyer, the guy brave enough to step into Buchanan's shoes. His only apparent sin was not avoiding the recriminations of the pro-Buchanan faction -- not that any human being could be so nimble.

Of the outsiders, only Walter Buster successfully navigated the gossip, drama and second-guessing inherent with the Clovis job. He and successor Terry Bradley provided 14 combined years of stability. Both recognized that they were riding a good pony and their job was to keep it on the track.

Cash's sudden departure is as surprising and mysterious as that dead leopard shark turning up in a Clovis canal. Three weeks ago, a confident Cash was selling the district's performance and beating the drum for a possible $300 million bond measure to spiff up Clovis Unified's fabulous -- but aging -- facilities. Next thing you know, the district is robo-calling news of his retirement to staff.

What happened behind the scenes is anybody's guess. Perhaps dozens of small board concerns grew into a tsunami of regret over Cash's hiring or the direction he was taking the district.

What we do know is this: The Clovis Unified board stepped into the vacuum of Buchanan's departure, grabbed power and hasn't let go. If you're saying this is the way school districts are supposed to operate, you're right. But the reality is that Buchanan -- not the board -- ran the district for three decades.

All these years later, the board again is looking for someone who can keep test scores up and balance finances without deviating too much from the Clovis template.

The rub is, anyone with at least one eye open recognizes that big changes are coming to Clovis Unified -- even if some trustees wish it weren't so. The suburban bubble that protected the district from urban realities is being pierced as enrollment climbs toward 40,000 and demographics change.

The educational challenges are steeper. Teachers -- always expected to put in extra hours -- want to be paid as well as those in other large districts. Sooner or later, the teachers will form a union, and this will affect the solidarity of a board that has had little turnover. Finally, there's the challenge of finding money to maintain and repair facilities.

With Cash's departure, the Clovis rhythm calls for an insider. But if it's an outsider, the same rules apply. The next superintendent will be required to pay homage to Buchanan and the Clovis way of doing things while guiding the district through today's realities and deferring to the board's stronger personalities.

In short, it's a job for someone who knows a lot about education -- and even more about surviving the tough politics of a district with big expectations.