Two members of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education — David Kodama and Lisa Gaynor — abruptly resigned, effective immediately, on the afternoon of Aug. 28, within 33 minutes of each other.
Both said in telephone interviews that they were resigning for personal reasons and to spend more time with their families. They said that the increasing frequency of school board meetings and the length of meetings had just become too much.
But their sudden departures may also be related to a difference with the majority of the school board about the future of the Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis.
The Landmark has learned from a source with direct knowledge of the matter that during the closed portion of the Aug. 19 school board meeting, four members of the board — Mary Rose Mangia, Rachel Marrello, Randy Brockway and Michael O’Brien — indicated that they had no confidence in Sharma-Lewis and were ready to replace her.
Sharma-Lewis has two years remaining on her contract.
The Landmark has also learned that over the summer a majority of the board issued a negative performance evaluation of Sharma-Lewis. Kodama, Gaynor and Art Perry reportedly did not agree with that evaluation.
In their brief resignation letters Kodama and Gaynor said they were resigning for personal reasons. Neither would comment about the future of Sharma-Lewis or talk about any vote of no confidence in her.
Mangia would not comment when asked whether she expected Sharma-Lewis to finish out her contract. She would not confirm or deny whether there was a straw vote about the future of Sharma-Lewis.
Kodama said that any disagreements with the majority of the board are not why he resigned.
“I’m not going to say that’s the driving force for what’s transpired,” Kodama said. “I’m looking at the amount of time and commitment that this position is going to entail.”
The Landmark also has learned that Kodama wanted to be a member of the school board’s negotiating team for the upcoming teachers’ contract, but Mangia and Marrello nixed that request.
“I was always willing to participate as an active member on any pertinent committee and clearly the CBA negotiations is a key issue for us,” Kodama said. “I can only say I’ve put forth my opinions, my positions, my contributions and then I follow the consensus of the board. … Sometimes what you want is not what the consensus wants.”
Kodama had been visibly frustrated at times during recent board meetings. Both Kodama and Gaynor voted for an increased tax levy that was not approved.
“I sensed that he has been frustrated since the tax levy vote,” Mangia said of Kodama.
Mangia said that she was surprised that Kodama and Gaynor resigned.
“I’ve learned from all the board members,” Mangia said.
Kodama and Gaynor were both very knowledgeable about school district affairs and were two of the hardest working members of the school board. Kodama was elected to the school board in 2011, and his term expires next spring.
He made a bid to become the president of the school board after the school board election in the spring of 2013, but the board chose Mangia in a 4 to 3 vote.
Gaynor was initially appointed to the school board in September 2011 to fill out the term of Mary Stimming, who moved out of state. Gaynor was elected to a full four-year term in 2013.
Teachers in the district are upset and concerned about the resignations and the prospect of further instability in the district.
“We’re scared to death,” said one District 96 teacher who asked to remain anonymous because she feared the consequences of speaking publicly. “They’re the only two who know anything about education. The others, all they care about is money. We’re worried; we’re scared. It’s not the same place anymore. It’s not a real happy district.”
Mangia met with Sharma-Lewis for nearly two hours Friday afternoon. Sharma-Lewis sent out an email under Mangia’s name to district staff Friday afternoon while the two were meeting.
In that email, Mangia stated that the school board had confidence in Sharma-Lewis and the staff she has built during the past year.
“I want to assure the District 96 staff and community that we have confidence in the important work of our Superintendent and her entire staff,” Mangia wrote. “We’ve made strides on key initiatives last year, including special education services, common core preparation, and technology infrastructure. We will continue this work during the school year, just beginning, as we as address strengthening academic achievement.”
Mangia said that most of her meeting with Sharma-Lewis was a normal business meeting devoted to planning the agenda for the Sept. 2 school special board meeting. O’Brien also met with Sharma-Lewis on Friday to discuss routine district business, according to Mangia.
Asked directly about the board vote in closed session that amounted to vote of no confidence in the superintendent on Aug. 19, Mangia said she didn’t recall the term “vote of no confidence” being used.
“No seven people who are in the same meeting hear the same thing, that’s for sure,” Mangia said. “That’s becoming evident. I didn’t realize people hear so many different things. It’s just a very difficult thing and I’m not sure where all this stuff is coming from and who’s saying what. All I have to say is it’s natural to evaluate a superintendent. I don’t even want to say that. Not a superintendent. We evaluate our employees. That’s what we do.”
Asked to describe her relationship with Sharma-Lewis, Mangia said, “We have good conversations and we communicate effectively.”