Orange Unified to vote on a contract with interim superintendent

The Orange Unified School Board is scheduled to vote this week on a contract with interim Superintendent Edward Velasquez, who has been working without a written agreement since he was appointed following the surprise firing of the district’s superintendent.

Under the proposed contract, up for a vote on Thursday, Jan. 19, Velasquez would be paid $1,350 per work day — four or five work days per week — and be reimbursed for all expenses, including travel, rental car and hotel costs. Velasquez is living in a hotel while he fills in as the top administrator at the Orange Unified School District.

Within 30 calendar days of his appointment, Velasquez is to initiate a review or audit of the district’s instructional and educational programs, “after discussion and direction from the Board at a duly-noticed Board meeting,” according to the proposed contract.

Velasquez is a retired Southern California superintendent who was living in Idaho when he got a call from Board President Rick Ledesma on Jan. 4 asking if he would be able to step in as an interim superintendent. Earlier that day, Ledesma called for a special meeting for the following day, catching by surprise many in the community, including some trustees.

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During that Jan. 5 meeting, the board split 4-3 on firing Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen and placing another administrator, Cathleen Corella, on paid administrative leave pending a “curriculum and education audit.”

The emotionally-charged meeting drew a packed house, with parents and teachers objecting to the board majority’s actions. They questioned the political motives behind what happened and noted that the administrators had previously received praise for their work.

The board also split, with one abstention, on the appointments of Velasquez and Craig Abercrombie, the principal of Canyon High School who is to take over Corella’s job in the interim. (Board member Kris Erickson — who along with Trustees Andrea Yamasaki and Ana Page voted against Hansen’s firing — abstained on the appointments because she said she was given no information until those names popped up for approval during the board’s closed door meeting.)

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At the upcoming meeting, the board is scheduled to appoint an acting principal for Canyon High while Abercrombie fills in as assistant superintendent of educational services.

As for the interim superintendent’s proposed contract, it limits Velasquez’s salary to $49,000, at his request. In a recent interview with the Register, Velasquez said he took the job to help out, but he’s already getting a pension as a retired educator and does not want to exceed the maximum allowed before it impacts what he already receives from the state. Velasquez previously worked for several districts, including Montebello Unified and Lynwood Unified in Los Angeles County.

The contract would not provide Velasquez with medical benefits, vacation, sick days or holiday pay.

While most of the board’s regular meetings are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., the one scheduled for Thursday begins at 5:30 p.m., with public comments on the contract proposal and closed session items, including the appointment of the Canyon High interim principal. The School Board meets at 1401 North Handy St. in Orange.

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