The Columbia Union School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved a pay cut of about $9,000 for Superintendent John Pendley next year, a reduction that Pendley said would help the district balance its budget.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, several community members continued to question Pendley’s educational background and his handling of a 2010 criminal case in which his son had sex with a student in a classroom.
Community member Paul Girard said he recently met with Pendley to discuss the superintendent’s doctoral degree from LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., a school raided by the FBI in 1996 for tax fraud and issuing fake diplomas.
Pendley maintains that he attended LaSalle while it was “seeking accreditation,” a formal stamp of approval from the U.S. government or a third-party agency indicating that a school offers quality programs.
LaSalle, later called Orion College, failed twice in its accreditation bid before shutting down in 2002. At one time, it sold advanced degrees to anyone who paid $2,000 to $3,700 — whether or not they did any work.
“My main interest in having the meeting was to determine if Mr. Pendley actually had a legitimate doctorate degree,” Girard said. “The response that I received was that the degree was not required for the superintendent’s job.”
“It seems to me that he is the one who has declared that his doctorate is as good as any other, accredited or not,” Girard added.
According to Girard, Pendley told him that Stanford University is unaccredited.
Like other legitimate schools in California, it receives accreditation from the Western Association of Schools & Colleges.
Girard went on to call Pendley’s education “basic” and question the reasons for his salary, which last year was higher than Gov. Jerry Brown’s by about $1,770.
Among Tuolumne County superintendents, Pendley’s salary was second only to Summerville Union High School District and Twain Harte-Long Barn Unified School District Superintendent John Keiter.
Pendley made $175,760 as joint superintendent of Belleview School District and Columbia Union School District during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The two districts had a combined 693 students at the end of May.
With the reduction of approximately $9,000 next year, Pendley’s new salary will be over $166,000.
By comparison, Sonora High School Superintendent Mike McCoy will make $142,700 for overseeing a district of roughly 1,000 students. McCoy holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Pendley declined to answer further questions about his degree after Tuesday’s meeting. He said the media had “already written” about his claim to have a doctorate.
Pendley said that the $9,000 salary reduction, which will save the district over $10,000 when extra costs are included, was his own idea.
“That’s my contribution to balancing the budget,” he said.
“He did this one time before,” said Board President Clark Segerstrom. “It’s something he does as the leader of a district to kind of set a tone.”
Pendley and the board of trustees have faced criticism over the past year for their handling of criminal incidents involving Pendley’s 24-year-old son, Brennan, who worked as an after-school program aide at Columbia Elementary in 2010.
Brennan pleaded guilty in June 2011 to having sex with a minor, then an eighth grader, in a classroom.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Segerstrom requested that audience members not repeat earlier points made about Brennan Pendley’s case.
Carol Malispina, who has called for Pendley’s resignation, said she wasn’t seeking any kind of revenge against Pendley or trustees.
“What we want is ethical decisions being made by the board,” Malispina said. “We want the children at Columbia to be protected — which we know this young girl was never protected before or after the incidents.”
“You’ve made your decisions about Mr. Pendley and you have to live with them,” she said.
Both Malispina and district critic Paul Girard have said that they won’t address John Pendley as “Dr. Pendley” because his doctorate is illegitimate.
Jo Rodefer, wife of Tuolumne County supervisorial candidate Karl Rodefer, echoed calls for Pendley to step down.
“This is a really nice school,” she said. “Really nice teachers work here. Really nice students go here. It’s a nice little community. It’s just a dang shame that this whole problem has to keep not going away — because Mr. Pendley, it’s not going away until you do.”
Pat Dean Girard, a former representative for Tuolumne County on the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees, also married to Paul Girard, asked for answers about policies for the after-school program.
“I have been coming to these meetings now for over nine months,” she said. “I have repeatedly asked for the policy to guarantee that supervision is provided at the after-school program. I don’t want to hear that it has always been in place, because we all know better.”
“This cannot happen again,” she said.
Robert Frobose, another community member and a Pendley supporter, commended the board for “lots of great decisions … made over the years” and criticized The Union Democrat for its coverage of issues surrounding Pendley’s doctorate.
“You’ve had a lot of ridiculous distractions,” he told the board. “As far as (Pendley’s) doctorate is concerned, that’s another stupid distraction.”
A total of about 16 people were present for the public comment period of Tuesday’s board meeting.
Later at the meeting, trustees approved a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that predicts a loss of about $250,000 in revenue if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase doesn’t pass a vote in November.
The district’s total general fund revenue is projected to be roughly $4.1 million, down by more than $416,000 compared to the previous year.
“As long as I’ve been doing this, this is one of the more difficult budgets we’ve had to put together,” Pendley said. “It’s very unclear still … We took the philosophy that we’ll assume that the taxes won’t pass.”
He added that the district’s goal is to protect jobs and student programs. It has reduced some support staff positions and consolidated others. It will also save money from the retirement of two employees.
Pam Kubasek, a teacher who wrote a letter to the judge on Brennan Pendley’s case placing blame on the victim, is one of the retiring employees.
Pendley said that the 2012-13 budget will restore some positions that were cut, including a curriculum specialist and front office worker. It hired three new teachers at the end of last year.
If Brown’s tax initiative fails to pass a vote, the district will deficit spend by about $131,000. However, the Columbia Elementary’s budget indicates that its general fund will end the 2012-13 school year with a positive balance of more than $1.6 million.
Segerstrom attributed the large projected ending balance to the district’s success at saving money in previous years, building a strong reserve to rely on in bad times.