Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | Less than one year into her four-year contract, Karen Walker was let go on Friday from her post as superintendent of the Solana Beach School District.
Joel Small, president of the five-member school board, said trustees unanimously agreed to terminate the relationship effective July 1, exactly one year after they hired Walker to replace long-time Solana Beach superintendent Ellie Topolovac.
“It was not a good fit with the district,” Small said. “It was a difficult decision, and we wish the best for Karen. But the board felt we needed to take a new direction.”
This will be an expensive new direction for the 2,700-student district, as the board has agreed to buy out Walker’s four-year contract. Although three years remain, Small said the most the district is required to pay under state law is for 18 months. He said her annual salary was about $140,000, making the maximum payment $210,000. But he said the amount is still being negotiated. “We are trying to do this as amicably as possible,” he said.
Small said there was no specific incident that prompted the board action and noted that the vote was to terminate the contract “without cause,” meaning she did nothing illegal. He said the board simply felt “she was not the fit we were hoping for.” He said there were no employee complaints that came before the board.
The district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, Sandy Benson, will be asked to step in and serve as interim superintendent until a replacement for Walker can be found. Small said the board has not yet decided how to proceed with the search.
Walker, who was most recently the assistant superintendent of instruction for the Fountain Valley School District, was identified for the post after an extensive search by Harry Weinberg and partner Rene Townsend, both of Leadership Associates, a prominent education recruitment firm based in Mission Viejo. Weinberg, a former superintendent of San Diego County schools, has helped recruit new superintendents for many school districts throughout California, including Carlsbad, Poway, Del Mar and San Dieguito.
When reached by telephone, Walker declined to comment on the action, saying only that she wished them well. When hired, she stated publicly that she was not brought in to make changes and that the district was exemplary.
The Solana Beach School District operates six schools serving students in grades K-6 in the city of Solana Beach, Carmel Valley, parts of Rancho Santa Fe and areas east of Carmel Valley. SBSD students consistently score among the highest in the state on standardized tests.
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