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Superintendent on Hold

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Plenty of school superintendents across the nation feel that they're under fire from their boards these days. But perhaps only one believes he's been placed under house arrest.

That's how Fred Mendoza, the superintendent of the Delano (Calif.) High School District, describes his situation these days.

The district trustees voted recently to order Mr. Mendez, who has headed the system for some seven months, not to come to work. However, they said, he must remain at home by his telephone from 7:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in case anyone from the central office has any questions. And he was told not to talk to reporters.

When a recent caller inquired how the beleaguered superintendent was doing, he replied, "I am sitting at home. By the telephone."

As of last week, though, he said he had not received a single call from the school office.

"It's certainly different, even unique to be sent home like this," he said. "It's very peaceful. I'm smelling the roses, and I suppose that's good."

Both sides are being rather mysterious about the reasons for the action. Mr. Mendoza points out that the district, which comprises one high school, has had nine superintendents in the past 10 years.

Beyond that, he will say only that he and the board have different educational philosophies.

District officials have said much the same in news accounts, but did not return telephone calls.

Mr. Mendoza's contract expires in June. He acknowledges that he'll be "looking around," and is concerned that his current plight might harm his job prospects.

His lawyer is also reviewing the situation, Mr. Mendoza said.

A rural area about 30 miles north of Bakersfield, Delano has a mix of Hispanics, Filipinos, and whites, and ethnic tensions are said to play a role in local politics.

Indeed, a boyhood friend of Mr. Mendoza is Cesar Chavez, the farm labor leader who organized a boycott of Delano grapes in the 1960's and won unprecedented collective-bargaining rights for the grape pickers.

For now, Mr. Mendoza says, he'll follow board instructions until told otherwise.--gb

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