UNION CITY -- In a hastily planned special school board meeting late last week, retiring New Haven Unified Superintendent Kari McVeigh was placed on paid leave three months before her exit date, and two district employees were appointed her temporary replacements.
The unexpected decision surprised even high-ranking district officials and now may lead to legal action from McVeigh.
"We don't have a clue as to why the board chose to do this at this time," said Greg McCoy, McVeigh's Danville-based attorney. "We're hoping that they reconsider because it opens the door to a claim against the district for a breach of contract, which is something we don't want to do."
The five-member school board on Friday night replaced McVeigh with the district's chief business officer, Akur Varadarajan, and chief academic officer, Arlando Smith, who will serve as "interim co-superintendents," according to a district news release.
Smith and Varadarajan both said they did not learn that they were being offered the district's top job until the day of the special meeting.
McVeigh, New Haven's superintendent since December 2008, is no longer working at the district's Union City office, district employees said. While on administrative leave, she will continue to receive an annual salary of $220,486.
"She's entitled to all the same compensation and benefits as if she still was doing the job," McCoy said. But some details about McVeigh's leave period still are unclear, the attorney said. When board members told McVeigh she was placed on leave during the meeting's closed session, McCoy said they did not provide reasons why or indicate the leave's expiration date.
On June 3, McVeigh submitted her retirement notice to the board, and two days later she announced that decision, saying her departure was tied to irreconcilable differences she'd had with the school board over management choices earlier this year. She intended to keep working until Nov. 30, but that all changed after the recent special meeting.
As of Tuesday, four days after McVeigh was replaced, key details surrounding Smith's and Varadarajan's new roles also remained murky. Smith, who joined the district in 2010, and Varadarajan, a New Haven employee since June 2012, both said they have not discussed possible salary increases with the board, but expect to in the coming days.
"A raise is not the most important consideration right now," Smith said. "What's most important is the teaching and the learning and staying focused on the district's goals."
The lack of information surrounding personnel decisions has disappointed some in the school community, said Lance Nishihira, a Union City parent. Nishihira complained about the late notice of the special meeting, which first was posted online Thursday. He said the "ineffective" way the district publicized the meeting prevented him and others from giving input on such an important decision for Union City's schools.
"There are a lot of ways of getting the message out nowadays, but the district seems satisfied with posting it on the website and hoping that people stumble upon it," he said. "We can do better."
Board President Linda Canlas said in a news release emailed Saturday to the media that the board made the personnel moves so they could provide "continuity" to the school district, and implement a $29 million Race to the Top grant it received late last year. Those federal funds will be spent improving student achievement and educator effectiveness.
"Dr. Smith and Mr. Varadarajan will provide us with stable and experienced leadership in the year ahead while the board conducts the search process for a new permanent superintendent," Canlas said in the written statement.
Since the news release, other board members and district employees have referred all media questions to Canlas, saying the board president's role is to act as district spokesperson. However, Canlas has declined to answer further questions about McVeigh's leave or the hiring of her replacements.
"The news release is our statement," Canlas wrote Monday in an email to this newspaper.
She did not return further emails and phone messages left for her Monday and Tuesday.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.