HESPERIA • Hesperia Unified School District Board President Chris Bentley called a special meeting last week regarding the termination of Superintendent Mark McKinney, three of his top cabinet members and other unspecified employees.
Although the planned special meeting was subsequently canceled, it underscores growing tensions and claims and counter-claims about what critics say are Bentley's bullying tactics.
Anthony Riley, one of two board members who has began to speak out, said Bentley's bullying has been a persistent problem since he was elected to his position in the fall of 2008.
"I was shocked he canceled the meeting," Riley said. "But he was using this special meeting as means of instilling fear in the superintendent and the cabinet. It's his tactic to get his way."
The cabinet includes three positions, which are held by Jovy Yankaskas, David McLaughlin and Karen Kelly. Bentley did not respond to phone or emailed questions regarding this meeting, but knowledgeable sources said that Bently called the meeting in animosity because Superintendent McKinney had a frank discussion with him regarding his behavior.
Riley, whose term is up this fall, said he has witnessed firsthand the destruction caused by Bentley since he first took office. As an example, Riley and Hardy Black, another board member, provided the Daily Press with several lists of the hundreds of public records requests that Bentley has made during his four years on the board.
"Frustrated secretaries cry while their supervisors tremble in fear and outrage when they realize that Bentley is disrupting their department and gunning for them," Black wrote of Bentley on his first term report card. "Mr. Bentley uses these demands as a tool to harass and intimidate more than as a means to get meaningful information."
Riley and Black say the remaining two board members, Niccole Childs and Eric Swanson, have closely aligned themselves with their president in an attempt to "go along to get along." Both Childs and Swanson could not be reached by phone for comment on Tuesday.
"He is relentless in his tactics," Riley said. "The safer thing to do was to remain silent, but it's time for the silent majority in this district to be vocal."
In early 2011, after noticing a problem between Bentley and other employees, two district officials spoke up at board meetings and soon found themselves without a job. One of those people was Matt Spencer, who was the assistant superintendent of personnel services.
Spencer believes he was fired because of a "direct conversation" he had with Bentley regarding a workplace bullying issue that several employees brought to his attention.
Ironically, Spencer was well-versed in workplace abuse, and is currently a senior consultant for the Workplace Bullying Institute. When he took his position at the Hesperia School District office, Spencer said he noticed that Bentley exhibited classic signs of a "bully" who used fear, intimidation and threats to get his way.
"I have no regrets about what I did," Spencer said. "My only regret was leaving behind a lot of good people who were being pummeled. I couldn't pursue justice for them. I had to leave my colleagues behind and that's haunting for me."
Spencer said that he wished he could have had an item agendized so that the Board of Education could have been able to investigate the claims made against Bentley.
A copy of an official letter written on behalf of HUSD employees, dated Feb. 14, 2011, to the board of trustees states "we urge the board to conduct the investigation, thus giving an opportunity to officially report offensive, unprofessional and abusive conduct they have been subjected to (by Bentley) — conduct that has no place in an educational working environment."
"It could have been different, but there was no investigation, no justice," Spencer said. "We just wanted this (bullying) stopped."
One of Bentley's opponents for the election, Ella "Lee" Rogers, said that HUSD is now a "mess," with Bentley to blame. Political campaigning aside, Rogers said that Bentley's actions to threaten the superintendent and his cabinet were "unconscionable."
"How dare anybody be so presumptuous that they put people in so much stress," Rogers said. "We've got to get the district straightened out again. We can't have this bullying going on."
Superintendent McKinney said his termination is not an agenda item at this time. When asked if he thinks the issue of his termination will come up again, McKinney simply answered, "I don't think so."