The principal of St. Helen’s School in southeast Fresno is out of a job despite an outpouring of support from parents who say his fundraising efforts saved the school from closing last year.
Mona Faulkner, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools, terminated Jason Garza through a letter that characterized his job performance as “unsatisfactory,” and said he had “potentially jeopardized the financial standing of the school.”
Garza said the news came out of nowhere, as his contract had been renewed in April and he hadn’t received any warnings since. The Office of Catholic Education did not return several requests for comment from The Bee.
“I thought they’d understand this is a rebuilding year,” Garza said.
St. Helen’s faced closure in 2017 after incurring a debt of $580,000 to the Diocese of Fresno in employee benefits. A three-month fundraising effort saw walkathons, car washes and raffles, which ultimately kept the school’s doors open.
Garza said over the past school year, he has also tried to find ways to help the school save money, such as replacing an old credit card machine that had cost the school $20,000 in processing fees. The school ended the year in the black, according to Garza.
“Having $175,000 is tremendous in one year,” he said.
Michael Box, the parent of a second-grader and a preschooler at St. Helen’s, said parents were blindsided when they learned of Garza’s termination in an email.
He credits the principal with spearheading the financial push that kept St. Helen’s open, and said Garza was a welcoming face at the school when he first enrolled his children this year.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of the school because of him,” Box said. “He meant his love for St. Helen’s.”
Box started a petition to reinstate Garza shortly after learning of his termination. It has gathered 515 signatures, with comments likening Garza to Batman and Iron Man.
“He should have been recognized (by) Mona Faulkner for his efforts, but instead was terminated which baffles the mind,” another commenter wrote. “Why would a person be terminated for doing what is expected of them as well as above and beyond expectations? It doesn’t take a rocket science to come to what conclusion some may want to happen.”
The letter from Faulkner to Garza cited the latter’s “lack of administrative/management experience and credentials” as a barrier to “effectively leading the School.”
Faulkner offered the former principal another position, Development Director/Teacher, which would have him teach P.E. two days out of the week and lead donation drives the other three days. The letter, dated June 8, gave Garza until June 11 to decide whether to accept the new position, which he ultimately decided not to do.
“The way this letter is written, I don’t know if I could go back even if I wanted to,” Garza said.
Garza said his wife was so upset, the family decided to pull their children out of St. Helen’s. He’s looking for a new job, preferably at a private school, but said he will miss the community at St. Helen’s.
“I’ve worked very hard for this school,” Garza said. “I lived, breathed and slept St. Helen’s.”