Gateway school board president signed contract with Bryan Caples without approval, emails show
Gateway Unified School District emails to its board of trustees appear to confirm the board is interested in hiring a man whose teaching and administrative credentials were suspended. One of the emails also indicates the board president in December signed a proposed contract with the candidate without first obtaining board approval.
The latest revelations came to light in a series of emails released to the Gateway Citizens Committee after the group submitted a California Public Records Act request for documents related to hiring a new superintendent.
In one email, dated Jan. 17, 2023, interim Superintendent Steve Henson warned board members not to hire Bryan Caples without first going through a formal search and hiring process for a new administrator.
“If you proceed with hiring Dr. Caples under the terms of this contract, I am concerned it may financially devastate the district. Moreover, it may be found to be completely invalid. As I’m sure you are aware, if the terms of an employment contract conflict with state or federal law, the contract may become null and void in its entirety. This will lead to litigation. Contract disputes can be costly and protracted, costing the district millions of dollars in legal fees before reaching resolution,” Henson wrote to the trustees.
Leanne Westphal, a retired Gateway teacher and member of the citizens committee, said the emails confirm what many in the district community suspected, that some board members wanted to hire Caples.
“It's very upsetting. We've heard rumors of that contract. That's what prompted us to start doing these public records access, to file these because the rumors are all over out there. So we have to get rid of the rumor and find the fact,” Westphal said. The district did not provide the committee a copy of the contract, though.
The Record Searchlight has also filed requests for records from the district regarding superintendent hiring. District Business Manager Beth Roberts said in an email that the district will determine whether "it has disclosable documents" around Feb. 19.
Henson’s email was sent a day before the board was set to meet and discuss hiring a new superintendent. The trustees’ meeting agenda included a proposal to bypass the board’s normal superintendent hiring protocol and approve a superintendent contract.
During the nearly six-and-a-half-hour-long meeting the board voted 3-2 to bypass its formal hiring process but after meeting in closed session for more than two hours, it took no action on hiring a superintendent.
The three newest members of the board, President Cherrill Clifford, along with Lindsi and Elias Haynes, voted to bypass board policy on hiring a new superintendent. Trustees Dale Wallace and Phil Lewis voted against the measure.
Before the meeting, many in the Gateway school district community speculated the board intended to hire Caples, whose credentials were suspended Jan. 15. The suspension is set to be lifted Feb. 13, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
But Caples’ hiring had been in the works for weeks before the Jan. 18 meeting, and a contract to hire him had already been signed by Clifford, according to the Jan. 17 email from Henson to trustees.
“I am also gravely concerned that it appears President Clifford signed this contract on behalf of the district on December 30, 2022 (see attached), without any authority or board action to do so,” Henson wrote. “In sum, this contract and its terms do not appear to be in the best interest of the district, and it has not been negotiated nor approved in a manner consistent with board policy. I must advise you to postpone approval of this contract until new legal counsel can be located and they have time to review all relevant information and advise you on the negotiation process,” he said.
Clifford has not responded to several attempts to reach her this week. Westphal said she was surprised to learn there was a signed contract.
“That's very upsetting to people. You know, that's really a breach of our trust and of transparency,” she said.
The issues surrounding the board has some teachers and school staff looking for work at other school districts, Henson said in an email he sent to trustees on Jan. 4.
“My concerns at this time are focused around the instability of the school district due to fears and speculation of the unknown. I have been approached by various employees asking for letters of reference in the case that they choose to seek employment outside of the district. I have encouraged people to wait and see how things develop rather than be reactionary due to unfounded fears,” Henson wrote.
The board’s Jan. 18 meeting drew a large crowd, with many people speaking out against the board bypassing its own policy to hire a new superintendent. While the board’s agenda included items related to hiring an administrator, it did not name Caples as a candidate and no proposed contract was included with the agenda.
None of the board members said at the meeting who they wanted to hire to fill the post, which became vacant when the Haynes’ and Clifford voted in December to fire former Superintendent Jim Harrell.
While credentialing commission did not specify why Caples’ credentials were suspended, there is a public record of his work with several North State school districts.
Officials at two school districts where he worked said they did not have confidence Caples could create a healthy work or learning environment.
Officials at North State school districts last year also reported issues involving Caples creating conflicts with staff and school board trustees.
He left at least one North State school district after allegedly showing up for work only one day during the seven months he was employed at that district, according to public records and school officials.
Records obtained by the Record Searchlight last year show the Scott Valley Unified School District in Siskiyou County unanimously placed Caples on an indefinite leave of absence in 2013.
The Palermo Union School District in Butte County also voted to release Caples from his contract in 2018, records show. And Burnt Ranch Elementary School District in Trinity County terminated Caples' contract without cause in January 2022, according to interviews and documents.
Caples also ran unsuccessfully for Shasta County Superintendent of Schools, but lost to incumbent Judy Flores.
In addition to the controversy surrounding the possibility of hiring Caples, the Gateway school district trustees have come under fire for other issues during the past several weeks.
This month the board has been threatened with legal action for possibly violating the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, and for voting to bypass the board policy in hiring a new superintendent.
Also this week, trustees received a letter from an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter says the board violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment mandate of separation of church and state when it held a prayer at the beginning of its Jan. 18 meeting.
Reporter Damon Arthur welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today
This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Gateway school trustee signed superintendent contract for Bryan Caples