Beal says dismissal won’t solve district issues

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, January 26, 2022

beal and boylan

Superintendent Toni Beal and her attorney Paul Boylan. Boylan also represented the district in its fight against the west county teachers' union in 2019.

Word has surfaced from Toni Beal’s side of the story after trustees of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) voted to immediately oust her as superintendent on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

The school board settled 4-0 to buy out the former superintendent’s contract and place her on paid administrative leave. Trustee Angie Lewis was absent.

“When I first talked with Toni about this, what she described sounded like a scheme to force her to resign for political reasons unconnected to her professional performance,” said attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, who specializes in labor law and the First Amendment.

Boylan came out with a press release to Beal’s defense the day after the vote, crediting her for leading the school district away from bankruptcy and state seizure over the past several years as superintendent.

“When the board president, Patrick Nagle, called me on Wednesday night at 6:15 p.m., he didn’t give any reasons for the board’s decision to buy me out of my contract,” Beal said in response to questions from SoCoNews.

“I have never been given a negative evaluation for negative feedback on my performance as superintendent. I was shocked when the board president implied at the board meeting that I was removed because I was disruptive and divisive. I am not clear on the basis for that accusation,” she finished.

Nagle’s exact words Wednesday night were that the board believes “this leadership change will help us create the climate necessary to end disruptive and divisive activities that are inhibiting our school community from coming together and moving forward with a shared commitment and focus to serve students.”

As for what those disruptive and divisive activities are, Nagle told SoCoNews, “It’s a really hard question to answer as there’s a lot of things I can’t really talk about.”

He continued, “But what I want to say is there are a lot of things happening here in west county surrounding our comprehensive high school, be it the name, be it consolidation. And I think there are a lot of opportunities to work closer together and put some resolution to this process and move forward on a united front.”

The board president said the recent student walkout had nothing to do with the division, but rather how people speak to each other about their opinions.

“Instead of focusing on the things that bring us together, it seems like we’re spending all our energy and efforts focusing on the thing that’s tearing us apart,” Nagle said. “I don’t like the animosity, I don’t like the neighbors (being) upset with neighbors because one person views one thing about the name and another person views something different,” he said later.

Nagle said he couldn’t comment on what Beal did or did not do that led the board to buy out her contract and end her time in office early. “That’s a personnel matter and I would feel most importantly that Toni’s entitled to her privacy, and I want to honor that.”

Beal guessed that the division and disruption had to do with how using the West County bridge name upset the Analy Alumni Association “and reversing the bridge name and returning to Analy upset parents and students.” She added, “If that’s what he’s referring to, I don’t think buying me out of my contract is going to address these issues.”

Boylan’s press release describes the former superintendent as popular and respected, though a number of community members who demanded trustees step down in 2021 criticized Beal as well.

“I’ve received hundreds of text messages and emails from people expressing their surprise, appreciation and support,” the press release quoted Beal. “I appreciate it so much and wish I had more time here. I feel like my work is unfinished.”

Boylan said he reached out to the school board for Beal, volunteering pro bono, and asked to negotiate a separation agreement, but “they decided to throw a lot of money at Toni instead of sitting down to talk.”

As superintendent, Beal brought forward numerous proposals that the board approved, despite disagreements from some of the community.

“Everything I did was per Board approval and instruction,” she was quoted in the press release. By email, Beal listed the board’s decisions to consolidate, to rebrand and then pause the process and use a bridge name. “I don’t know what more I could have done to do my job the best I could given the circumstances.”

Nagle voiced that uniting is easier said than done and that people have completely warranted emotions, but rather than slide back into conversations on consolidation, he hoped the community could rally around providing students the best education and teachers they could.

“By combining forces and aligning, we could have the best band we’ve ever had, we could have the best drama department, we could have the best ag department, we could have the best athletics because instead of splitting the resources between two campuses, we’re uniting under one umbrella,” he said.

The school board took up a provision in Beal’s contract to pay her a full year’s salary and 45 days of notice before her employment winds up, “no harm, no foul, ‘no judgment,’” Nagle said. Per the contract, he said she is also due three months of health benefits.

Beal is spending those 45 days on paid administrative leave, an arrangement he said was decided by the board without negotiation. “We felt it was best to just remove that obstacle and to make a clean break and not put her in the predicament where she’s in a lame duck situation.” Contrary to what he read online, Nagle said it’s inaccurate to say the board fired her when the board “exercised its right to part amicably under the contract.”

The former superintendent had little to say about what she might do about the removal or her plans going forward. “I am going to take a break and look at my options,” she said in an emailed Q&A.

Beal stated she didn’t know the board was considering her removal until Nagle called her Wednesday evening, but that she had noticed the board treating her differently in early November of 2021.“And it looked to me like the board’s plan was to avoid the cost of a buyout by putting pressure on me to resign,” she said.

She continued, “That’s when I reached out to attorney Paul Nicholas Bolan, who I know has negotiated separation agreements for many California superintendents that allowed them to leave their employment on friendly terms. Based on what Mr. Boylan told me about his communications with district legal counsel, that’s what both he and I thought would eventually happen.”

Her termination in the middle of the school year means site administrators, teachers and a number of initiatives just lost support, according to Beal. She listed the New School Model Grant, more mental health services and support for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, including the recent partnership with Sonoma County Health Services to connect west county’s homeless youth with housing.

Other initiatives she said are “in critical stages of development and implementation” are program “take backs” and a future special education program within the district, strengthening the academic support system for students who are disabled, financially disadvantaged or are learning English, and encouraging ongoing partnerships for community and health services.

“That is part of the reason why I offered to stay on until a new superintendent is hired. Mr. Nagle’s statement that he wanted to avoid a ‘lame duck superintendent’ doesn’t make any sense in the context of operating a school district. Continuity and a smooth transition is vitally important when a school district superintendent leaves,” Beal said.

Dr. Donald Evans will be stepping forth as a short-term superintendent to get the district in order for a long-term interim superintendent to lead until the district finds someone to stay for good, according to the board president.

Evans has been superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District and the Hayward Unified School District and associate superintendent with Compton Unified School District.

“I think Dr. Evans is a very level-headed, process-oriented individual who can bring a lot of experience into our district and highlight some of the good things that we’re doing and can help us move forward in an interim capacity so that we can get on the right track,” Nagle said.

The Cost
As maintained by Boylan, the board stretched Beal’s contract for another three years back in May of 2021 and she then received a 2.5% raise in July. It will cost the district about $218,700 to buy out her contract between the raise, benefits and year-plus of pay, he stated. Nagle said the number sounded close to accurate.

“Although I am personally very happy with this result, I am amazed that the district just decided to pay all of this without negotiating,” Boylan said.

He continued his statement, “In all my 32 years of negotiating separation agreements for both private and public clients, I’ve never seen an employer actually increase the value of a contractual buy-out provision by extending a contract, allowing an automatic raise to happen, and then failing to give sufficient notice. I’m going to be telling stories about this for years.”

Nagle shared that he had not read Boylan’s statement in full, but that he didn’t find what he’d seen of it in the paper to be accurate.

This article was produced by SoCoNews. See more news at soconews.org