Under threat of a potential lawsuit and mounting pressure from frustrated community members, Lamont School District Assistant Superintendent Jose Santos Cantu resigned his post Tuesday night, district officials said in a prepared statement.
“The board determined this is the best interest of the district to avoid litigation,” Lamont Board President David Manriquez said, describing the decision as being made “with heavy hearts.”
Cantu, who was not at the meeting Tuesday, reached a settlement agreement with the district. He will receive four months salary – roughly $48,000 – and retain his health benefits until June 30.
Manriquez expressed gratitude to Cantu “for his work with the district and many projects completed for us. His dedication to students and community is beyond question.”
Board members refused to comment on the matter after the meeting and would not discuss the search for a new assistant superintendent.
The decision came after a series of stories published by The Californian revealed that Cantu holds no administrative credential, a requirement for his post as the second highest administrator in a 3,000-student, four-school district.
The Californian’s reporting also found that Cantu negotiated a nearly $20,000 pay raise for himself the same day he advocated eliminating four intern teaching positions. That negotiation occurred during a special session, one of 20 held in the district in 2015 – a move that good government experts say is illegal. Cantu earned $144,276 annually.
Board members hired him in 2012 and knew he did not hold proper credentials, Superintendent Ricardo Robles said.
Cantu’s 2015 contract renewal, however, contains a section stating that he holds proper credentials.
“Assistant Superintendent certifies that he possesses and will maintain during the entire term of this Contract valid and appropriate credentials and certifications to act as Assistant Superintendent as required by law,” the contract states.
Grant Herndon, general counsel for Schools Legal Service, which represents Lamont, described that section as “fairly standard contract language,” but would not comment before the meeting whether it could be a breach of contract, citing attorney client privilege.
“It’s been a difficult process for them [district officials], there’s been a lot of information to sift through,” Herndon said.
Labor rights advocate Dolores Huerta, whose foundation has organized parents in the rural farming community, said she thought both Cantu and the board acted responsibly Tuesday.
“I’m glad the board acted in a responsible way accepting Cantu’s resignation and that Cantu acted in a responsible way by resigning,” Huerta said after the meeting.
Before the announcement was made, Dolores Huerta Foundation officials spoke out against the board hiring the assistant superintendent, even though they knew he did not hold proper credentials.
“That decision has led, unfortunately, to poor academic outcomes for the children of Lamont,” Manuel Barrera, director of programs and planning at DHF said.
Cantu’s defenders lambasted the Dolores Huerta Foundation for drawing comparisons between the assistant superintendent’s qualifications and the performance of the district.
“I’m flabbergasted,” Calvin Meek, a longtime Lamont resident and former teacher said. “I’ve known every single superintendent in this district for a lot of years. To say that a person like Jose [Cantu] can be replaced by someone with a different credential, and it’s suddenly going to change scores is ludicrous.”
Others defended Cantu’s character, describing him as a homegrown talent who came back to Lamont to make a difference.
“Mr. Cantu is a very experienced and excellent educator,” Larry Hallum, a retired teacher from Arvin said before reciting an exhaustive list of Cantu’s past roles and job duties. “Is that no experience? No educational background,” Hallum asked afterwards.
Huerta, who attended the meeting Tuesday but did not speak during public comment, said that appointments of unqualified administrators like Cantu occur all over rural towns dotting the San Joaquin Valley. They’re perpetuated, she said, by a “good old boy” board mentality.