The largest single employer in the High Desert again has someone in the top management position.


In a 5-0 vote Monday afternoon, the Hesperia Unified School District school board voted to have Mark McKinney serve as interim superintendent while a search is on for a permanent chief executive.


McKinney, like newly retired Superintendent Hank Richardson, comes from personnel, and normally serves at the HUSD's Assistant Superintendent of Personnel. Since Richardson was placed on administrative leave on July 16 (and later accepted a retirement offer on August 7), McKinney has been part of a triumvirate running the district, along with Assistant Superintendent of Business Services George Landon and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jovy Yankaskas.


"Thank you for the opportunity to keep things going forward," McKinney said Monday, following the results of the closed session portion of the school board meeting being reported in open session.


While the search for a permanent replacement continues, McKinney will earn the lowest possible salary for a superintendent: $145,325. Meanwhile, as part of his retirement agreement, Richardson will continue to earn his final salary of $165,525 through August 2009.


Richardson's departure earlier this month capped off a year of high-profile departures from the school district, including Richardson's predecessor, Dick Bray, just before the start of the 2006-2007 school year and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Rob Challinor.


The turmoil is just one part of what has been a tumultuous year for newly elected school board members Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers. The three are the targets of an attempted recall, an issue that repeatedly bubbled to the surface during Monday's meeting.


While Lee Rogers was giving her board member report, a man in the audience held up a yellow piece of poster board, with the words "Hit List: Richardson" written on it, with a checkmark next to Richardson's name. Rumors of a hit list that included terminating the HUSD's sixth-grade only schools, Bray, Richardson and others, have circulated since before last November's election.


"Thank you for the hit list," Rogers told the man. "Would you like to bring it down front?"


"This is called democracy," the man said, coming down and handing her his sign.


"Actually, it's called interruption of a board meeting," she replied.


"We've had quite a bit of unrest in this district and we've had a lot of disorder in our district," she said, once the protestor had gone. "Some of the problems we have in this district are opportunities. ... If [we've] made a mistake, at least [we're] trying to do something."


Supporters of the three board members in the recall effort's crosshairs spoke out during the meeting's public comment session.


"It is clear to me the recall petitioners should have checked the facts before alarming the community," Hesperia Teachers Association President Jim Pace said, after reading a letter from McKinney verifying that two contracts related to the construction of Oak Hills High School had not been signed, as claimed by the recall proponents' petition.


HTA Vice-President Gordon Williamson praised the board members for sending out a survey in the spring about the possibility of changing the school calendar.


"Both of the past boards and past cabinet members outright refused" to do so, Williamson said, "Assuming they knew better."


The three board members targeted by the recall had been supported by the HTA in the last election.


"I'm not surprised that the same group that seeks to overturn the results of an election would also oppose this survey," Williamson said. The pro-recall group has also decried the expense of sending the calendar surveys to the homes of 20,000 students and more than 2,000 employees.


At the close of Monday's meeting, school board president Bruce Minton directed staff to begin searching for a permanent replacement for Richardson.


The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be held September 10 at 6 p.m. at Sultana High School.


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