SAN JOSE -- Richard Rodriguez, who has been serving as an unpaid consultant and contract negotiator for the tiny Luther Burbank School District, has taken over as interim leader after the sudden and puzzling resignation of its superintendent last week.

Jan Kaay, who had led the district for nearly three years, resigned April 30, in the middle of the district's spring break. At a special meeting that day, with hardly anyone except trustees present, the board appointed Rodriguez, 63, as its temporary chief.

It is the third time in less than six years that the one-school district has abruptly changed chiefs midyear.

Kaay's letter said she was resigning voluntarily but did not mention the reason nor future plans. "I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to work with the dedicated administrators, teachers and staff of Luther Burbank School," she wrote. She could not be reached for comment.

Board President Lorraine Garza said the board didn't have any problems with Kaay. "There's a lot of people who are going to miss her. She's a very, very good person."

During Kaay's tenure, the district has been largely free of the turmoil that afflicted it for at least a decade. Santa Clara County civil grand juries have slammed the school board for conflicts of interest, intimidating employees and mishandling and wasting funds. A previous board ousted Rodriguez while he was traveling in 2008. He later recruited and campaigned for three board candidates. After they won seats in 2010, they booted out the superintendent and installed Rodriguez temporarily.


Advertisement

The next spring, the grand jury criticized Rodriguez for being overly influential as a consultant.

He was succeeded by Kaay, whom he had recommended to the board, in July 2011.

For several months, the board has been meeting in closed session to discuss Kaay's evaluation. Rodriguez has sat in on board closed sessions.

"There have been mixed messages to the staff about who is in charge," said teacher Fran Heller, who is bargaining chairwoman for the teachers union.

Rodriguez's January 2011 contract with the district calls for him to recommend a board attorney and to advise, perform duties and make recommendations to the board -- all for free, as a "charitable contribution." The contract allows for him to be paid for mileage to San Jose from his Gilroy home.

Rodriguez began his teaching career in Luther Burbank shortly after college, then was named superintendent in 2001.

The 108-year-old district serves about 600 mostly poor and immigrant children from preschool through eighth grade. It covers the unincorporated Burbank neighborhood, near the interchange of interstates 280 and 880.

Several months ago the board designated Rodriguez, along with its attorney, Richard Noack, as its representatives to negotiate with the teachers union over a new contract. Shortly after the sides settled, the union filed a grievance and an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging that the district unilaterally sought to change the salary schedule by claiming a clerical error more than a decade ago.

"We don't believe you can make a clerical error for 14 years," Heller said.

With Kaay's sudden departure, Rodriguez said, "I'm having to fly by the seat of my pants right now. It's kind of difficult to walk into somebody's shoes and try to pick up where they left off, when there's no information and no notes."

The board meets Tuesday to vote on Rodriguez's contract. He said he will be paid more than his previous stint as interim superintendent, when he made $670 per day.

On Monday he issued a letter to preschool staff banning "unauthorized family members on campus," cellphone use in the classroom and adults chatting with each other during recess and threatening to write up those who violate those edicts.

"I don't have a lot of time to be monitoring you as a staff," he wrote in a staff memo on Friday, "but if you have to be monitored both Lupe, my administrative assistant, (and) I will do so and you will be written up for any infractions of these rules."

Rodriguez said a top priority now is to find a permanent superintendent, a task he may take on himself. "I don't think we need to hire a professional search firm for a one-school district," he said, citing the "exorbitant" expense. "Probably there's not going to be a lot of community involvement or staff involvement."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.

Luther Burbank School District history
February 2008 -- Audit raises concerns about expenditures
November 2008 -- Board pays $202,218 to buy out contract of seven-year Superintendent Richard Rodriguez
2009 -- District pays Fernando Elizondo $240,000 to serve as interim superintendent for less than a year. Rodriguez and laid-off administrative assistant Lupe Ruiz sue district
June 2009 -- Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury blasts board for alleged conflicts of interest, intimidating employees, violating open-meeting laws, mishandling duties
September 2009 -- Board hires Becky Cohn-Vargas as superintendent, pays Elizondo $50,000 to mentor her
November 2010 -- Three Rodriguez-recruited candidates win school board seats
February 2011 -- Ex-trustee Antonio Perez pleads no-contest to violating conflict-of-interest laws
March 2011 -- Board ousts Cohn-Vargas and pays $160,000 to buy out her contract; installs Rodriguez as interim leader
June 2011 -- Grand Jury alleges mismanagement and wasteful spending over the years, including $900,000 on consultants and buyouts, calls for a merger with neighboring school district
July 2011 -- Board names Jan Kaay superintendent