Open Letter to the FJUHSD Board of Trustees Members of the Board

Let me start by saying I love this District.  I went to SHHS.  Between my dad and myself, we put in almost seventy years of certificated and classified service that fed, housed and insured our family for all of them in return.  I am known to some of the Board personally.  As you may also be aware, I am recently retired from the District as of October 2018.

It is my hope these three facts will lend credibility to some statements I am about to make about a very concerning change in morale of many classified and certificated staff in recent times.  Many who work under you in this District have lost hope that the Board is anything but oblivious to much of what is currently happening on the ground.

While Education is not a business, the District is in the business of Education.  The Board generally pursues the philosophy (and one with which I agree) of avoiding micromanagement, as the general administration of the District’s affairs is certainly upper management’s proper role.  However, larger HR concerns can arise in any corporate business about which a genuinely in-touch Board should be made aware and not dismissed as micromanagement.  Occasionally uppermost management’s actions should also require the Board’s attention when those actions are affecting many of the personnel in a negative way.

Without using too broad a brush because of many notable exceptions, there has been a general change in the tenor of management over the past several years, one that has become incrementally more imperious, less collegial and in a few cases borders on hostile.  George Giokaris immediately began making a change toward this direction as superintendent which Ron Lebbs happily continued as it fit so well with his own style of dealing with subordinates.  I can personally attest to the difference in the atmosphere in the Business Services office being night and day regarding morale within months of Ron taking it over.  How much of management went along because they had to or because they liked it too, I cannot say.  I can say, however, that office never really has cheered back up.

Meanwhile, the District was on the cusp of all the bond-funded construction and needed to replace George, as he announced his retirement shortly after that year’s Board election results rather than face not having his contract renewed.  Superintendent Scambry’s demonstrated ability to get local communities at his former District involved in helping to finance or otherwise support the various new facilities like the projects we were looking to build was a huge qualification as the Board searched for a new superintendent.

I have no comment on his tenure as Superintendent as a whole.  But for whatever the reasons, he failed to generate the same levels of meaningful or enthusiastic cooperation from our own local organizations or cities in the end.
However, Superintendent Scambry’s bigger disappointment to many District-wide was to bring Todd Butcher on board as both Director of Construction and Director of Methods &Operations.  He manages by complete contempt, implied threat of repercussion, absolute impatience with dissent and can become highly confrontational.  He does not play well with others.

Butcher throws tantrums and has dressed down subordinates, even managers, publicly. He can unilaterally make any changes, sometimes sweeping in scope, sometimes amazingly petty, and the consequences be damned.  It is up to those directly affected by those consequences of his whims and dictates to figure out how to fix it or else live with it.  His management style is referred to as “Ready… Fire… Aim” around the District and I can personally attest to the accuracy of that description.  He wields sweeping powers in the District with impunity, the likes I have never heard or seen here before.  He is in reality a Co-Superintendent.

An early example occurred during then current contract negotiations.  Against a backdrop of claims of no money to replace councilors, staff and teaching positions, zero to pitiful salary increases for years and a crumbling infrastructure, $5.3 million dollars of unrestricted funds (apparently meant not to be noticed during that year’s labor contract negotiations) is exposed in an audit, suddenly disappears and then just as suddenly $6 million appears in highly restricted category tying that money up for ten years for Superintendent Butcher’s artificial turf at the FUHS Stadium.

This seemed to fly under the Board’s radar at the time, but was a clear and unmistakable signal to the rest of us just how things were going to be run under this new regime.  I don’t see how our Co-Superintendents could have said “Screw you” to the teachers and staff more clearly.

I am aware of only a couple people in the District who have successfully stood up against Superintendent Butcher’s more outrageous unprofessionalism.  For reasons unknown to me, CSEA has been quiet on most Butcher-induced issues.  I have seen some management on the verge of figuratively wetting their pants in a panic that something Superintendent Butcher wanted was not going to be done immediately.  His will quite literally seems to have priority over anything or anyone else.

Superintendent Butcher retired from the Santa Ana school district to “return to the private sector” according to CASBO.  Around this time several people resigned because of a cloud of ethical improprieties.  I am not saying the two are related, but retiring to the private sector is often like a politician retiring to spend more time with the family.  No matter why he retired to rejoin the private sector, just how great an expert in construction management is he supposed to be if less than two years later he was back on the taxpayers’ dime?

Early on Butcher came to the District Service Center and announced that he was bringing over three hundred fifty years of construction management experience with him to the faces of our M&O staff representing close to 900 years of actual on-site experience.  With that attitude and to our economic detriment, he rarely solicited any advice or knowledge from the people that had actual front-line experience with the District infrastructure for the past twenty to thirty years.  A lot of money has been wasted fixing things subsequently broken, or issues caused, by mistakes of his construction crews.

People have differing opinions regarding how his construction projects are being run, and they would know more about it than I do.  However, does he not have enough to do as Director of Construction that he needs to be Director of M&O as well?  Perhaps if Superintendent Butcher concentrated more of his awesome expertise on the construction projects, there would not be so many “unavoidable” cost overruns.

Several years now of a less than collegial work environment have eroded much of the good will the staff held for the District Administration. Superintendent Butcher’s regime has pushed it over the edge for many.  There must be many in management who would rather things were different, but seems to be little hope that even those affected will begin to stand up against him.  As I said, the union leadership evidently has reasons for ignoring things as well.

District wide morale is at the lowest I have seen it in the nearly twenty years I worked here.  Most of us have been here decades, not just a few years, and have watched the District turn from being well known for great working conditions into a comparatively bleak workplace with a growing reputation as an all together undesirable place to work compared to even ten years ago.

This letter was inspired by the people who have been donating preventive maintenance on the Plummer Wurlitzer who were being ignored by both of our Superintendents. It was understandably apparent that the Board had no idea of the situation.  Few in this District would be surprised if the real reason turned out to be that Superintendent Butcher either had someone else he wanted to use or other plans of his own regarding the organ.  How would that ever come to the Board’s attention otherwise, when for all appearances it was being stonewalled?  Sometimes the only way the Board can be exposed to an issue is publicly through the Blue Card, which is what I am doing in effect with this open letter.

Has the Board ever heard about any of this before now?  I can only truthfully and honestly speak out on this topic because I am now a civilian and no longer exposed to any sort of retribution for doing so. I could not leave my co-workers under the mess that is our Superintendent Butcher without trying to bring it to your attention specifically as the only five people in the District who can do anything about it. I am trying not leave you as the only five people in the District who don’t seem to know what’s really going on.

I call on the Board to please make a decision about how it is going to allow its employees to be treated.  Superintendent Butcher has a personality absolutely unfit for public-sector management and really should be confined to his role as Construction Director.  His area of expertise is clearly not Human Relations.

I ask that you look into the full extent of just what Superintendent Butcher is doing and why it is being allowed to happen.  A few audits would show exactly how he behaves fiscally since he also moves money with evident impunity.  Personally talk to staff about what is going on under your very noses in this District.  Personally talk to management.  I’d be happy to talk to you myself.

I make no claims that he is doing anything illegal. Proof of anything unethical would need to be the results of any actual audits and reviews of his behavior.  His lack of professionalism is often enough on public display.  Since the nominal Superintendent doesn’t seem inclined to do so, it will be up to the Board to put a muzzle and a leash on Superintendent Butcher until you have made a decision how he is supposed to behave.

If you are OK with your District staff working under this Mob syndicate-style of management and the fact that qualified and experienced personnel are leaving the District early either in disgust or with relief, then I offer my apologies for wasting your time and my efforts.

However, if the morale of District workers is something you deem appropriate for your attention, please take a hard look into what is really going on and why.  It shouldn’t take former employes beyond the reach of District retaliation to be the only people capable of speaking out without concerns of reprisal.  Yet this is exactly the state of the work environment in many parts of the FJUHSD these days.

Even if Superintendent Butcher is technically within his rights to behave this way, is fear and loathing really how you want to run your District?

Categories: Opinions

2 replies »

  1. Exquisite Open Letter to FJUHSD written by Bill Dunton in the Fullerton Observer above. Bill, I have it on good authority (I know people) who are agreeing and heartily applauding you right now and want to thank you sincerely and openly but are unable to do so pubically for reasons of retribution that you state in your letter. So … I’ll do it on their behalf:
    Linda Hagstrom

  2. It’s interesting that it has taken this long to surface. Todd has a long history of this kind of behavior and outcomes. Just look at the history left with Val Verde and Santa Ana. Not sure why public figures continue to get away with things like this. It only makes you wonder…