Sacramento Board To Buy Out Kimbrough Pact

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In what it hopes will be the buyout to end all buyouts--at least for a while--the Sacramento, Calif., school board has agreed to part ways with its superintendent just one year after bringing him on board.

Ted D. Kimbrough, 61, will receive more than $286,500 to leave the district next week after serving just nine months of his three-year contract.

He had held the $127,500-per-year post in an interim capacity for three months before the board took the widely criticized step of granting him that contract last May, just six months before a majority of the board was up for election.

The 51,000-student system will now begin a search for its sixth schools chief in four years, a rate of change that is unusual even in the turnover-prone world of urban superintendents.

That track record was a salient issue in November's school board elections, which resulted in the victory of four new members who ran together on a platform of bringing stability and seriousness of purpose to the traditionally fractious seven-member panel.

"We're starting over," said board President Jay Schenirer, who is a member of that newly elected majority. "We will find the right person for the job."

Mr. Kimbrough came to Sacramento after stints as the superintendent of the much larger Chicago public schools from 1990 to 1993 and of the Compton district near Los Angeles from 1982 to 1990.

Both Sides Mum on Deal

In 1993, three years after Mr. Kimbrough left Compton, the schools there were taken over by the state because of chronically poor educational performance. In Chicago, he stepped down just two years before the mayor took control of the schools in a move to address similarly dismal results.

Under the terms of the Sacramento buyout agreement, the board did not cite a cause for seeking Mr. Kimbrough's departure, and both board members and the superintendent declined to discuss the reasons for it.

Last week, the board named the district's deputy superintendent, Jim Sweeney, to fill the top job in an acting capacity when Mr. Kimbrough leaves Feb. 20. Mr. Sweeney had filled in for three months before Mr. Kimbrough arrived early last year.

The board also unveiled a plan for a review and overhaul of district operations in the coming months.

The vote late last month to buy out Mr. Kimbrough's contract came just 15 months after the previous board ousted Superintendent Terry Grier in a falling-out that resulted in a cash buyout that cost the district about $187,000.

Mr. Grier, who is now the superintendent of a district in suburban Nashville, Tenn., remains embroiled in a legal battle with the Sacramento board over his ouster.

He had served only 17 months after taking over from a one-year interim superintendent after the departure in 1993 of Rudy F. Crew, who later became chancellor of the New York City schools. Mr. Crew was hired after the district bought out the contract of Superintendent Keith T. Larick in 1989.

Stormy Past

Mr. Grier's firing in November 1995 met with strong community criticism and prompted Mayor Joe Serna Jr. to back an effort to recall the four board members who voted to buy out the superintendent's contract.

After that recall drive failed last winter, the mayor threw his support behind the four-member slate that won election this past fall.

Last spring, a commission the mayor appointed to study the school system issued a report charging that "the boardroom has remained a political playground rather than an arena to truly help children learn and succeed."

In one of its final acts before ceding the reins after November's vote, the old board approved a package of sizable pay raises for administrators.

Some district managers and principals won increases of as much as 20 percent. One current board member blamed early criticism of the pay package for the narrow defeat at the polls of a $250 million bond issue for school repair earlier in the month. ("Critics Blame Administrator Raises for Defeat of Bond in Sacramento," Dec. 4, 1996.)

Manuel Villarreal, the staff director for the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said last week that the union is waiting to see whether the changes at the top will make a difference for teachers and students. But he said the union, which traditionally has had troubled relations with the district brass, is hoping the new superintendent will make "a long-term commitment to the area."

"We're greatly suffering in this district for a kind of leadership that is meaningful and consistent," he said. "We really do need that."

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