Monday Morning Thoughts: Differences of Opinion on Top Administrative Salaries, VSA

Trustee Madhavi Sunder complained opposed the decision of the district to not renew Deanne Quinn's VSA
Trustee Madhavi Sunder complained and opposed the decision of the district to not renew Deanne Quinn’s VSA

We are starting to see differentiation occurring among the school board members. It started with the June 4 vote on the AIM program, which was 4-1 with Madhavi Sunder in dissent. Then we had the 3-2 vote on the VSA (variable services agreement) for AIM Coordinator Deanne Quinn, with Ms. Sunder joined by Alan Fernandes.

The district was proposing a one-time 4% increase for 2014-15 and 1% increase for 2015-16. Then an ongoing 2.27% increase for 2015-16 and 2% increase for 2016-17. These were the same mix of one-time payments and salary increases given to other employees.

Ms. Sunder voted with the rest of her colleagues to support salary increases for principals and most other administrative staff, however, she broke ranks with her colleagues on the district’s four top administrators – Associate Superintendent Matt Best, Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant, Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby and Superintendent Winfred Roberson.

Ms. Sunder would explain her vote: “I do not believe it is reasonable to automatically increase administrator salary at the same rate we increase teacher salary.”

“I believe that highly paid administrators should be assessed on an individual basis, they’re on individual contracts,” she continued. “Today I’m not going to be voting against raises for our top administrators per se, but I am voting against a lock-step mirroring the raises offered to our teaching staff, who earn significantly less than the administrators.”

None of the other board members commented on the action.

Further Explanation of the VSA

Board member Madhavi Sunder raised some eyebrows with her comments on Thursday on Deanne Quinn’s VSA.

Calling in from North Carolina and participating via phone, she told the board, “I would like to remind the public that Ms. Deanne Quinn has been running the GATE, now AIM, program for 2 decades in our district. During that time, the school district’s program has been recognized as ‘exemplary’ by the state. Indeed, Davis is one of only three districts in the state to obtain that prestigious commendation.”

“I am very concerned that School Board Trustees have rejected the personnel recommendation of the administration, stepping directly into firing individual district employees against the advice of the administration. This is likely to provoke concern in the community and among our staff about the direction the Board is charting,” she continued.

Ms. Sunder stated, “We had an election in November. The candidates all explained their positions on this issue in writing at None of the candidates indicated that they wanted to essentially create a new GATE/AIM program, wholly unlike the program that has existed over the past few decades in this district.”

“They did not explain that they were going to fire an employee,” she said. “As I understand, none of the other Trustees have reviewed Ms. Quinn’s personnel file, and yet they are willing to fire an employee.”

She stated, “With Ms. Quinn’s consent, I have reviewed Ms. Quinn’s 20-year personnel file carefully, as I believe the Superintendent who recommended we rehire her has also done. That file demonstrates that Ms. Quinn is a valuable employee to the district. All of us can be better. But there is no cause here to deny us the benefit of her expert guidance in meeting the needs of a certain group of children.”

“It is indeed difficult to square this action, deposing the head of a program, with the claim that the program is not being radically altered,” she concluded.

That led to some wondering why Ms. Sunder would go to the trouble of preemptively pulling Ms. Quinn’s personnel file – did she know what her colleagues were going to do? And also how did she know she was the only board member to pull the file?

In a statement to the Vanguard, Madhavi Sunder explained, “I asked Ms. Quinn, the long-term coordinator of the AIM program, if I could review her personnel file because I was concerned that even though she was listed as an employee recommended to be continued by the District, that her name had been pulled from the consent calendar in the past, and might be pulled again in the future.”

“It is highly unusual for Board members to pull VSAs and vote no on individual employees against the Administration’s recommendation,” she said. “In the event Trustees were going to do that, I wanted to be prepared by knowing Ms. Quinn’s performance and evaluation history myself.”

Ms. Sunder added, “Ms. Quinn told me she did not share her personnel file with any other Trustee, and that I was the only one who asked for it.”

Three members of the school board – Barbara Archer, Susan Lovenburg, and Tom Adams – voted against a motion made by Board President Alan Fernandes to renew the VSA. They did so with minimal comment during the meeting.

On Friday, the Vanguard reached out to all three, asking for a comment on why the VSA was not renewed if no decision has been made on the AIM program yet.

The exchange with Susan Lovenburg is indicative of the response the Vanguard received. She said in a text: “I will not be commenting on this personnel issue.” The Vanguard received identical responses from Barbara Archer and Tom Adams. Ms. Lovenburg did not say that she has voted no on this particular VSA each time it has come to the board.

When the Vanguard pressed the issue: So you are telling me that the decision was based on personnel issues rather than policy?

Ms. Lovenburg responded, “I am telling you only that I will not comment on this personnel issue.”

Three members of the school board cited personnel reasons for not commenting on their decision, and yet none of the three chose to pull Ms. Quinn’s personnel file.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. ryankelly

    Deanne Quinn retired in 2011, receiving benefits offered by the district at that time for early retirement, and then immediately was hired for the exact same position on a part-time basis.  She turned a full-time administrative position into a part-time one, yet maintaining her full-time income and benefits.   Somehow the District benefitted financially by shifting a portion of her salary to her pension.

    The District has received several research studies that have brought to light flaws in the testing process, specifically the sole use of the TONI for retesting students.  In the agenda for the June 4th meeting, there was staff recommendation to broaden the tests used to identify GATE students and place limits on private testing.  The rational for why the sole use of the TONI by GATE was “The district, due to the financial crisis, experienced a reduction in AIM staff and as a result the sole test utilized for rescreening students who may qualified for AIM was the Test for Non-Verbal Intelligence (TONI).”

    It is clear that having a part-time employee managing the AIM program was supposed to be a temporary arrangement and not sustainable.  I would guess that Deanne did the best she could during the part-time hours she was working, but the time limitations have prevented the District from using appropriate testing methods for GATE identification and relying on private testing for a large percentage of its GATE identification.  Five years of the arrangement is enough.  It is time for a full-time employee for this position.

    Sunder has dragged this out to be a personal attack on this employee rather than being a restoration of resources that were reduced during the financial crisis and the rest of the Board is wise to not engage her or respond publically to her calls to evaluate Deanne Quinn’s performance.


    1. Davis Progressive

      where i’m missing your argument is this: staff recommended her position be continued.  it’s obvious they are going to make changes for 2016-17, but why get rid of the director before they make those changes?

      1. Davis Progressive

        also why are you turning this into a madhavi issue?  i think the most resonable position was alan fernandes’ – we are making changes, lets no pretend those changes have already been implemented, when we make those changes, we can revisit the vsa.

        the question i have is why has lovenburg been voting down this position every time – does she have a grudge against the gate coordinator, is this nancy peterson part ii?

        1. ryankelly

          Do you support the 50% reduction in staff time for this program?  I personally was not aware that they were dropping staff time to 50% and also reducing re-testing to one test, whether or not it was appropriate, as a result.  I don’t understand why people want to continue with this obviously poor arrangement.  Is this just because people have a grudge against Lovenburg?

          There is significant support for the changes proposed in the community, including teachers in the District.

      2. ryankelly

        I am guessing that this is due to affection for the employee and, maybe, laziness about finding a suitable replacement.   The staff recommendations in the June 4th agenda did not say how they were going to expand testing services while continuing to use the existing part-time staff resources.

    2. Adam Smith


      If your suppositions are correct, the board certainly has/had the ability to elucidate this for the balance of the community, instead of relying on you to read between the lines for the rest of us.    It could have been communicated to David when he asked individual board members for an explanation.    The Board could have clearly provided this as feedback to Roberson, as reasoning for rejecting something that he is recommending.    But they didn’t do any of that.      So we are left to review the actions and circumstances and guess at what happened.

      As  hpierce states, you are entitled to your opinion.    However, for me,  the actions of the board, and the facts as I understand them,  suggest something much different than what  you have concluded.


      1. Don Shor

        The school board majority needs to clearly explain the guiding principles they are using as they assess and modify the GATE program. They need to explain each action in the context of those principles. As it stands right now, it looks like they’re blundering through a process of GATE-devolution without saying what they’re doing or why. If they continue in this manner, with such disregard for process, public input, and the impacts of their decisions on hundreds of students and parents, I consider it very likely the recall petitions will be circulating by late 2015.

  2. hpierce

    Ryan… it is unlikely the person in question was drawing a pension anywhere near what her full-time position paid.  She undoubtedly had less total income, inc. the part-time gig, than she did before she retired.  You’d need to know her total years in the pension system, plus total hours under the VSA to really ‘do the math’.  As it’s said, you’re entitled to your opinions, but facts are facts.

  3. MrsW

    David, it might be helpful for your readership if you listed exactly what tasks the AIM Coordinator position in 2015 has both the responsibility and the authority to implement.

  4. ryankelly

    Hpierce – Does that really matter?  She did this voluntarily, so it must have worked for her.  The reduction in staff had a negative impact on the program and isn’t sustainable.

  5. DavisBurns

    Does anyone else think it is strange to rely on a test of non verbal intelligence for admission to the GATE/aim program? I guess it ensures none of the highly intelligent but socially awkward kids on the autism spectrum will be admitted.

    1. Davis Progressive

      they don’t rely on them.  they first rely on the olsat, but part of the game program seeks to identify underachievers who are highly intelligent but not high achievers on standardized tests.

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