Ousted Central Unified superintendent speaks out about quiet termination

Former Central Unified superintendent Mark Sutton, who was terminated without cause in February.
Former Central Unified superintendent Mark Sutton, who was terminated without cause in February.

Former Central Unified Superintendent Mark Sutton, who was terminated without cause last month, seems to be scratching his head as to why — along with the parents and community members who supported him.

"It's hard to say. I've been there two years, and in both years I had a positive evaluation and really no comments or suggestions for improvement. I figured things were fine," said Sutton, who was hired to oversee the Fresno County district, home to more than 15,000 students, in 2015.

On Feb. 27, the Central Unified school board voted 4-3 to end Sutton's contract despite calls from local families to keep him at the helm. More than 600 people signed an online petition urging trustees to renew his contract amid allegations that the reason behind his termination was merely political.

"There’s a list of rumors and innuendos out there, and I can't verify any of those," Sutton said.

Central Unified parent Jeff Yribarren said the community was left in the dark about Sutton's abrupt dismissal and said that collusion on the board was obvious.

"This is an example of the worst thing that can happen in local politics," Yribarren said at a school board meeting. "You get a small minority that colludes together and works themselves into power and they don't listen to the people that got them there."

A spokeswoman for the school district deferred questions to board president Cesar Granda, who did not return phone calls Friday. Kelly Porterfield, an assistant superintendent, was named interim superintendent on Tuesday.

Sutton was also terminated without cause from Selma Unified in 2015. In that case, newly elected board members — some of whom he had never met — chose to end his contract as their first action on the board, Sutton said.

Sutton contends he did nothing to deserve termination either time, and said he is touched by the show of public support in both cases.

"You never want to be the focal point of a situation like this; however, it has been and is very humbling to see and hear that people value who you are as a person and respect what I was trying to do on behalf of the kids," he said. "In the 36 years I've been in public education, I've hung my hat on what's best for the kids. That’s always been my bottom line."

As part of a buyout clause in his contract, Central Unified is paying Sutton through June. Despite the drama, he hasn't ruled out returning to the district in some capacity in the future.

"I'm considering some different things … I love the students and staff in Central. I think we were moving in the right direction, and I told them if I was called on again by the board that I would seriously consider that."

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays