One week shy of being in the position a year, Hesperia Unified School District Superintendent Hank Richardson is out of a job.


At a special school board meeting on Tuesday evening, the HUSD school board voted 3-2 in closed session to accept Richardson's retirement.


District legal counsel Tristan Pelayes read a letter from Richardson to the approximately 200 HUSD employees and parents in attendance at Sultana High School after the vote was announced.


"To Hesperia Unified School District staff, students, parents and the community of Hesperia," Pelayes read. "After careful consideration and thought, for personal reasons, I have decided to voluntarily retire from Hesperia Unified School District, through a retirement agreement.


"Words cannot adequately express the love and appreciation I have for this district and community. It has been an honor serving you for the past 12 years. I will always cherish the friendships, support and great times we shared. I wish only the best for the Hesperia Unified School District.


"Sincerely, Hank Richardson."


Richardson himself was not in attendance and had been on administrative leave since July 16.


The decision was not a surprise to those gathered, and the issue was addressed head-on in the public comment session before the board went into closed session.


"I'm here to say thank you to Mr. Richardson," parent Scott Beatty said, "For making the Hesperia Unified School District the place I could trust with the education of my children. ... Thank you for doing your duty, be it difficult or easy."


"In a corporation," Hesperia High School teacher Tony McGuyer said, "The career path to CEO is not through the personnel office."


Prior to becoming superintendent, Richardson worked as assistant superintendent of personnel.


McGuyer criticized the speed in which the previous school board had appointed Richardson after the departure of former superintendent Dick Bray, just prior to the start of the 2006-2007 school year.


"For $169,000 and perks, we could have seen some exceptionally qualified candidates."


He also expressed his doubt that district employees were afraid of the current school board, which some critics of the board have alleged.


"Have any teachers or classified staff suffered any reprisals under this board? If so, I'm sure the Hesperia Star and [Daily Press reporter] Gretchen Losi would be happy to print the story."


"I didn't write anything out tonight, but I'm concerned," said Ruth TerKeurst, the former president of the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, which represents the HUSD's classified, or non-managerial, staff. "What has the board of trustees done for students in this district in the last eight months? ... I'm very proud of this district, but it's sad to see the employees are afraid. ... We had a superintendent who was going out to sites ... someone who cared. And now you want to take it all away."


Richardson's departure is the latest twist in a tumultuous year since the election of a new controlling three-person majority of the five-member board. Since the election of new board members Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers, there has been a noisy and sometimes nasty public debate over the school calendar; the dissolution of the district's sixth grade-only schools; and a controversial decision to hire an allegedly under-qualified firm to build the district's next high school, a decision that was later reversed under the cloud of potential legal action.


The controversy reached a peak at the board's July 23 school board meeting, when critics officially served notice that they were beginning the process of calling for a recall election.


At Tuesday's meeting, Hesperia Teachers Association President Jim Pace read an open letter to Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Mark McKinney, demanding written proof of three of the alleged misdeeds by Black, Kirk and Lee Rogers. Citing the California Public Records Act, Pace demanded to see copies of a signed copy of the contract with WLC Construction Services to build Oak Hills High School, a signed copy of the contract to hire an outside project manager to oversee WLC's work and a copy of the board meeting minutes indicating that they had placed Richardson on administrative leave. The election campaigns of the three new board members had been supported by the HTA.


The board was in closed session for an hour and 26 minutes before returning to announce their decision. The 3-2 motion had been made by Kirk and seconded by Lee Rogers and was described by board president Bruce Minton as the "mutual release agreement of Hank Richardson."


The circumstances leading up to Richardson's departure were not disclosed, but in his role as assistant superintendent of personnel, Richardson at times had an adversarial and reportedly rancorous relationship with the HTA and CSEA prior to the district moving to collective bargaining for contract negotiations.


No interim or new superintendent was named at Tuesday's meeting.


The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be a facilities workshop held on August 15 at 4:30 p.m. at Sultana High School. The next regular board meeting will be held August 20 at 6 p.m. at Sultana High School.


The 2007-2008 Hesperia Unified School District school year begins August 13.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.