Sonora High

Outgoing Sonora Union High School District Superintendent Mark Miller will be paid $35,000 in severance, according to a separation agreement provided by the district on Tuesday.

Miller, who was hired in August 2018 on a three-year contract, signed the separation agreement on Feb. 6. He will vacate the position one year before the close of his contract, on June 30.

“It was a negotiation that the board and I got into. I think we both came out with an outcome that was acceptable to both of us,” Miller said Tuesday morning. 

Miller declined to comment on whether he knew a specific reason for his departure. Board of Trustees president Jim Riggs told The Union Democrat on Monday the board initiated the idea of the separation agreement in December 2019.

“It was a board decision,” Miller said.

Miller did not specify the proposed sale of the Wildcat Ranch as the reason for his resignation, but said he felt caught between the politics of two boards with opposite intentions on what to do with it.

“The direction I got from the first board is certainly different than the direction I got from the new board,” Miller said. 

Miller was superintendent in December 2018 when the board approved by a 3-1 vote to approve a $1 million sale agreement of 112 acres of the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch with Sonora non-profit the Park Foundation. Trustees Jeanie Smith, Rob Lyons and Jeff Norstrom voted in support, and trustee Kimberly Norton voted against. Board member Kathy Ankrom was not present. It was the last meeting for Lyons, Norstrom and Ankrom. 

In May 2019, trustees Erik Andal, Nancy Scott and Norton voted to nullify the purchase and sale agreement. Riggs voted against and Smith was absent.

The new board members were dogged by a legal challenge from the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, who accused the district — and specifically Miller and the former board members — of violating California public participation and surplus property dispensation laws in their negotiations with the Park Foundation.

The district ultimately settled with the farm bureau and incurred steep legal fees, totalling approximately $200,000. In January, the trustees announced they would pay $52,000 to avoid a lawsuit from the Park Foundation.

Miller said he did not expect to leave his position early when he took the job in 2018, coming off four years as a superintendent in Juneau, Alaska. 

“I wouldn’t have bought a house or put down roots if I thought I was going to be here for a year and a half,” Miller said. 

Miller said he is not sure what he will do next in his career. He said he has a house in Sonora and no longer has a house in Juneau.

“I met some great people. I had some great times. I enjoyed becoming a part of the community,” Miller said. “I’m a career educator. This is, leaving positions, if you’re a career administrator in administration, that happens. It’s just what you accept when you get into school administration.” 


Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or Follow him on Twitter @g_ricapito 

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