The Hesperia Unified School District's superintendent is dropping "interim" from his title.

The HUSD school board voted to officially give Mark McKinney the job as the head of the High Desert's largest single employer. The HUSD employs more than 2,000 teachers, school staff and managers. He is the district's fifth superintendent in its 20-year history.

"I'm very excited about it. I'm honored by their decision. I think this district has had some wonderful leadership, and now I get the chance to build on it," McKinney, 47, said Tuesday. "I accept this position with an honored and humbled heart."

The district's previous superintendent, Hank Richardson, left the superintendent's position in August, one week prior to the start of the 2007-2008 school year. McKinney was appointed interim superintendent two weeks later.

"I have a history with this district, so I know what that past was, and I know what we're dealing with now," he said.

Background

McKinney has been a familiar face around the HUSD for 20 years.

After teaching elementary school in Fontana and Riverside, McKinney made the jump to Hesperia and taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Mesa Grande Elementary School.

He was the principal of Joshua Circle Elementary School for five years, starting in 1992, and in 1997, was the first principal of Mesquite Trails Elementary School.

"I've actually been out of the classroom more than I've been in the classroom, so I always have to remain cognizant of that," McKinney said.

He made the move over to the district office as the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in 2001, and in 2006, because the assistant superintendent of personnel.

McKinney lives in Hesperia and his four children attend the HUSD.

"It's nice to be part of a district that I know so well," he said.

"For the first time in over 15 years, we have a superintendent who lives in our community and whose kids go to our schools," school board president Robert Kirk said Tuesday. "I think that gives him an insight."

McKinney's contract

McKinney's new base salary is $153,797, increasing to $173,059 by his fifth year and $184,309 by his 20th year in the position. Unlike Richardson, however, McKinney's health and welfare benefits will be paid for by the HUSD, an annual cost of approximately $9,300.

McKinney will have a week less of vacation time than Richardson was entitled to (14 days instead of 22), which will not accrue. (Richardson was able to accumulate up to 44 days of vacation pay, to be paid out on his departure.)

Like Richardson, McKinney will have some of his car expenses taken care of by the district. In Richardson's case, a new car was approved for purchase for his use, which was then to pass to the HUSD police department when needed. In contrast, McKinney will receive $850 a month for all vehicle operating costs and expenses.

McKinney will also get a cellular telephone, laptop computer and home fax machine for district use, although the district will not pay for a business phone line at his home, as it did for Richardson.

And there's one more important difference between McKinney's contract and his predecessor's: It will take only a three-person majority to fire him without cause, as opposed to the fourth-fifths majority required for Richardson.

No candidate search

McKinney and Richardson have other things in common, too. Like Richardson, McKinney had previously been the HUSD's assistant superintendent of personnel before becoming the district's superintendent. And the school board appointed both of them without a search through other qualified candidates.

Kirk has criticized the previous school board for appointing Richardson with engaging in a more extensive search, but said things are different with McKinney.

"There's two big differences: For one, he's been interim for six months," Kirk said Tuesday. "We've given him a trial run, so to speak. You get to take the car home, kick the tires and drive it around for the weekend."

The state's budget crisis also factors into the board's decision, Kirk said.

"What I'm hearing is ... this is going to go on for two or three years," he said. "Are we going to spend $20,000 or $30,000 on a search?"

The school board voted 3-2 in closed session before Monday night's board meeting to officially make McKinney superintendent. The vote split along the now-familiar lines since the 2006 election, with Kirk, Hardy Black and Lee Rogers voting in favor of McKinney's contract, and Bruce Minton and Helen Rogers voting against it. Minton did not sign McKinney's contract after the vote.

"I think we've done some powerful things for kids in the past, and we're poised and ready to do those things for kids in the future," McKinney said.

The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will take place on April 7 at 6 p.m. at 15576 Main Street.

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