Clark resigns as West Ada superintendent

Linda Clark has resigned abruptly — and effective immediately — as superintendent of the West Ada School District.

Clark’s resignation, announced Friday afternoon, ended her 37-year tenure in Meridian-area schools — the past 11 years as head of the state’s largest school district. It also comes after a turbulent 90 days in the district; since July, trustees and Clark have openly sparred about extending the superintendent’s contract, Clark’s appointment to the State Board of Education and other topics.

Even Friday, the verbal jousting continued.

Linda Clark
Linda Clark

In a prepared statement, and in interviews with reporters, Clark said she was forced out. She said she resigned after trustees made a final offer earlier this week: They asked Clark to stay on as superintendent until Nov. 3, the day West Ada voters go to the polls to decide on a two-year, $28 million supplemental levy, and resign the following day.

“The board’s final offer literally made me ill,” said Clark. “While I strongly support passage of the levy to pay for our schools, I refuse to be dishonest with the community for a few thousand dollars.”

School trustee Russell Joki — who has openly clashed with Clark since taking office on July 1 — took issue with Clark’s comments.

“The board did not ask her to resign,” Joki told reporters.

Joki said Clark’s resignation caught him off guard, and called the timing “hurtful,” since it could jeopardize passage of the levy.

Continuing claims and counterclaims

While trustees and Clark have openly been at odds, Friday’s announcement cast the dispute in a new light.

And led to a new round of claims and counterclaims.

Clark said she was told to resign by two trustees, who she declined to name. She said the board has been “militating” for her removal and has demanded thousands of her official emails in what she called a “witch hunt.”

“Never once have these board members sought to discuss any legitimate school business with me,” she said. “Instead, they have focused on ways to undermine and embarrass me and denigrate the past work of this award-winning district.”

Joki called the allegation baseless. He says trustees have focused on substantive issues — such as cost overruns on the district’s Hillsdale Elementary School project and fine-tuning the district’s strategic plan. He says transparency was a focal point of his election in May, and said trustees have remained “faithful to these issues.”

When Joki and Julie Madsen were elected to the board in May, and seated on July 1, the balance of power shifted on the school board. That has been evident in an ongoing dispute over Clark’s contract. In June, before Joki and Madsen took office, the board voted 3-2 to extend Clark’s contract through 2017-18. In September, the board voted 4-1 to rescind the extension, saying the previous board discussed it improperly during a closed executive session.

An election day looms

Clark and Joki managed to find common ground on one key point. Both said they hope Friday’s shakeup will have no effect on the Nov. 3 supplemental levy.

Voters will go to the polls in 11 days to decide whether to extend the $14 million-a-year levy — first passed four years ago. The levy was used to allow the cash-strapped West Ada district to restore nine classroom days and keep teachers on the job.

The stakes have not changed, Clark said. If the levy fails to get majority support, and the district is forced to cut $14 million from the budget, it will have no choice but to cut staffing and classroom days.

Joki also hopes patrons will look beyond the district politics and consider the levy on its own merits.

“It’s not about Dr. Clark,” he said. “It’s not about this school board.”

But Clark’s sudden resignation has at least one short-term consequence. Trustees are scheduled to meet Tuesday night; their one item of business was a community discussion of the levy. Clark was supposed to lead that discussion.

What’s next?

Clark informed board chairwoman Tina Dean of her plans in a letter delivered at about noon Friday. It read, in part: “I will clean out my office and be finished before I leave the office today.”

What happens Monday, and beyond, was not immediately clear.

Joki said he only learned about Clark’s plans during the lunch hour — and said trustees have had no chance to discuss naming a successor. “We were not planning a transition.”

Clark scoffed at this notion, saying trustees have been actively seeking her resignation for several weeks. “I would assume they’d discuss (a succession plan).”

Assistant superintendent Barbara Leeds says she has not been approached about taking the top job on a temporary basis.

Clark, who was due to make $143,475.29 for 2015-16 leaves the district with no severance package. At 66, she will begin collecting retirement benefits under the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho pension plan.

And as for her seat on the State Board — one point of contention over the past three months — Clark says she plans to stay put.

More reading: Catch up on the chronology leading up to Friday’s news. And click here to read our Aug. 13 profile of Clark.