HESPERIA • A City Council member is accusing Hesperia Unified School District President Chris Bentley of dirty campaign tactics — accusations Bentley calls "unfounded, libelous and slanderous."
At Monday night's Hesperia school board meeting at Sultana High School, Bill Holland, a former school police officer for HUSD and current city councilman for Hesperia, charged Bentley with the allegations, all of which stem from deep-seated, long-standing issues that both parties played major roles in.
Holland, dressed in a gray suit, spoke during the public comments portion of the board meeting, which was held after the board honored several hundred students with perfect California Standards Test scores. After the students were honored, a thinned-out crowd bore witness to Holland's charges, which included Bentley lying about having a teaching credential and instructing his children to pass out campaign paraphernalia at their respective schools.
Holland said Bentley's actions were "beyond repugnant" because he is a district employee and claiming to have a teaching credential is a slap in the face to teachers who went to school for years to earn one. Bentley currently holds an emergency 30-day credential issued by the Hesperia Unified School District.
Bentley sat quietly during Holland's comments, but spoke candidly during a phone interview with the Daily Press on Tuesday.
Angered by the claims, Bentley defended himself by citing governmental codes, educational codes and public records — all things he says are verifiable documents that prove he has done nothing wrong.
Mark McKinney, HUSD superintendent, said the principals of Cypress School of the Arts and Hesperia High School called the district office late last week asking if there was any issue with Bentley's children passing out campaign items, which included pencils, T-shirts, nail files and buttons.
Bentley explained that students, who are covered by the right to free speech, are able to express their opinions about political figures safely in a public school setting, provided the material is not offensive or degrading.
The issue arose, McKinney said, because school staff was unsure if that was considered unethical because of Bentley's status as current president of the school board. McKinney reassured staff that there was nothing unethical about handing out the products because Bentley was not a paid employee of the district.
Both McKinney and Bentley cited two educational and governmental codes that refuted Holland's accusations. But Dan Evans, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Office of Education, said elected officials are paid a stipend that is involved with attending meetings, as well as varying degrees of benefits.
"Each district decides how they want to pay their board members," Evans said. "But yes, they are employees."
Reliable adult sources who wished to remain anonymous for fear of possible retaliation said that when Bentley found out his actions were being questioned, he flew into a rage and berated the staff.
"Everything I've done, everything I do is legal," Bentley said over the phone. "I double-checked everything before I sent my kids to school with those things, and when my kids are brought into this, I take it very personally. There was no moral, no legal and no technical violation for what my children did."
Holland, who is a campaign manager for Ella "Lee" Rogers, Bentley's competitor for the HUSD school board election, also asked the Hesperia Teacher's Association to revoke their support for Bentley, who has served on the board since 2008. Tom Kerman, president of the HTA, voiced his loyalty for Bentley saying, "our support is going nowhere."