Central Unified OKs contract for new chief

Central Unified school trustees have approved a three-year contract and a $160,000 annual salary for new superintendent Michael Berg.

In a unanimous vote, trustees approved the contract at the end of a lengthy meeting Tuesday that ended at about 11:30 p.m.

Berg, 47, was offered the job of overseeing the 14,500-student district more than a week ago; the contract's approval makes his hiring official.

He joined Central Unified School District in 2004 and had been assistant superintendent and chief business officer. He replaces Marylou Ryder, who resigned at the end of June after accepting the top job at Victor Valley Union High School District.

Berg's salary and benefits package total slightly less than the $196,000 that Ryder received after four years with the district. His new job starts Dec. 1.

Chuck McCully, a retired Fresno Unified School District superintendent, will continue serving as Central's interim superintendent through Nov. 30.

Berg said his immediate priority will be to focus on student learning and "the academic side of the house" for the growing district. He said he will meet with community members and staff to seek recommendations on laying a foundation to improve student learning.

He said he also will look for his replacement as chief business officer. The district will appoint an interim chief business officer in the meantime.

Berg's contract runs through June 30, 2012. He will be evaluated annually, and the board may extend his contract for an additional year. He also qualifies for a merit increase similar to what other district employees receive.

Central Unified is centered in northwest Fresno, mostly west of Highway 99.

In other action, trustees voted 6-1 to change how trustees are elected starting next year -- switching from at-large elections to trustee-area elections.

Board President Cindy Berube cast the only "no" vote. She could not be reached to comment.

Threatened with a lawsuit, the board agreed in May to carve the school district into seven separate trustees areas. Under the existing system, trustees are elected by voters districtwide, although they represent a specific area.

Trustees had considered waiting until 2012 to make the elections switch because the 2010 census will update population information that's used to determine trustee areas.

Hispanic voter-advocacy groups demanded the district switch to trustee-area elections in 2010 or face legal action. Fresno Unified's board changed its elections process under similar pressure.

A written statement issued on behalf of Central's trustees said making the switch in 2010 will ensure compliance with the state's Voting Rights Act and "prevent the district from being entangled in costly lawsuits that other cities and districts have faced."

The board will conduct a series of public meetings on the elections changes beginning in December.

Central's trustee-area elections plan needs to be approved by the Fresno County Committee on District Reorganization before going to the state Board of Education for approval.