PASO ROBLES — Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Chris Williams resigned Thursday morning, Dec. 6, during a special school board meeting.
With tears in her eyes, board President Joan Summers made the announcement after trustees returned from a closed session that saw Williams receive his ninth-straight positive evaluation.
“Superintendent Williams initiated his resignation and we are sad to say that the board and Superintendent Williams came to a mutual agreement effective 60 days from today,” Summers said.
Summers thanked Williams on behalf of the board for all of his work since coming to the district in August of 2014.
“I want to thank you for your moral integrity, your one team one dream, your passion for student success,” Summers said. “When you came to this district over four years ago, you had classified and certificated staff that had voted the previous superintendent a vote of no confidence, we had furlough days, declining enrollment. You met with us and you already had a first 100-day plan before we even hired you. You built relationships. You left your community and your friends to come over here. You brought in the most qualified people no matter what their zip code was and programs all for the success of our students.”
Summers also cited some possible reasons for the departure of Williams.
“Then there is the element in Paso Robles that didn’t like change or those jockeying for power, daily attacking you and your family and friends with lies and slanderous statements,” Summers said. “It’s tragic that the momentum of one narcissistic board member who has to have control led us to where we are today. Thank you for fighting the good fight for students’ success. I know your family and friends are very proud of you.”
The vote was 6-1 to accept the resignation of Williams.
Williams did not speak at the meeting but received a standing ovation from those in attendance when Summers concluded her comments.
In a two-page statement, Williams released after the meeting, he did not explain the reason for his decision, but rather encouraged the community to come together for its children.
“I have loved every minute of my time serving each of you, our students, and our community and have only the fondest memories of my time serving as the Superintendent,” Williams said, later adding, “but most of all, I want to remind everyone to be unselfish, be selfless; it is not about your agenda, or what you heard, or the noise you make, it is about pulling together, supporting one another, and building on the foundation of greatness.”
During his tenure, the district has turned for the better in many peoples’ eyes. PRJUSD’s budget has grown from $61 million to $78 million. The district has benefited from $6 million in grants and saw the passage of Measure M, a $95 million general obligation bond in 2016.
Attendance in the district has risen to over 6,800 students in preschool through 12th grade and roughly 800 people are employed by the district.
Trustee Chris Bausch voted no and did not want to see Williams leave.
“I don’t want to see Mr. Williams resign,” Bausch said. “I want to see the good work that he started continue albeit within our financial limitations. Mr. Williams has done some great things. He has done everything the board has asked him to do and that is why we are in a financial compromised situation. He will be missed.”
Bausch did not care to comment on the negative atmosphere alluded to by Summers.
“I think the voters of Paso Robles have commented far better than I can,” he said.
Prior to the announcement of Williams stepping down, trustee Joel Peterson announced the resignations of District Director of K12 Physical Education and Athletics Rich Clayton and District Director of Student Services Kristin Shouse.
Peterson said trustees will begin the process of filling the vacancy once the new board is sworn in at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
The makeup of the board changes significantly as new members Chris Arend and Lance Gannon, who were not in attendance at the special meeting Thursday, and Stephanie Ulibarri, who was at the meeting, will be added, along with incumbent Tim Gearhart.
The three newcomers were critical of Williams and his handling of the district, pointing to recent budget woes that saw the reserve drop to .96 percent — 2.04 percent below the state requirement.
While Summers did not name the “narcissistic” board member by name, outgoing long-time trustee Field Gibson did not hold back and put much of the blame for the resignation on the shoulders of fellow board member Bausch, dirty politics and local talk-radio personality Dick Mason of KPRL.
“I think Chris Williams’ tenure just got to be untenable based on the conduct of Chris Bausch, the conduct of a couple of the incoming board members, the nastiness, lies and character assassination not only of Chris Williams but of a lot of our staff calling out our people by name,” Gibson said. “There was a campaign, KPRL was a huge part of it, Dick Mason imparticular, passing on, creating lies.”
Gibson said he advised Williams to stay on at the district following the election, but as time went on and the closer it came to the seating of the new board Gibson saw that was not going to be possible.
“I told Chris Williams it really would depend on how much support he thought he would be having from the new board and see if some of the extremely negative and nasty, and I want to emphasize nasty comments by Chris Bausch and some of the incoming board members would moderate but unfortunately it seemed to accelerate as people were jockeying for power,” Gibson said. “It seems to be more of a power issue instead of what they want to do for kids. The emphasis really should be on the kids and not their ego.”