Poway Unified Superintendent John Collins could be on his way out.

Collins and the school board each hired their own legal counsel recently to conduct urgent contract negotiations, even though Collins’ current contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2017.

On Sunday, the school board selected its new special legal counsel, attorney Maribel Medina, at a public board meeting. During the interview process, school board member Charles Sellers asked Medina whether she had experience hiring superintendents and in “disassociation” efforts as well, like negotiating a departure.

Medina replied she had “advised both the (Los Angeles Unified School District) board as well as smaller school districts in negotiating separation, so in some instances in a more aggressive posture.”

Another candidate, attorney Andrea Naested, said that if selected, she expected to review contract buyout and termination provisions, among other things.

According to Collins’ contract, he would be entitled to his regular pay and benefits for the remainder of the contract term up to 18 months if terminated without cause. Any mutually agreed on departure also caps the severance payout at 18 months’ pay.

A firing for cause carries no payout but requires the board to justify a dismissal by citing a breach of his contractual duties, fraud, theft, material dishonesty or another violation of law.

Collins, whose $400,000 yearly pay makes him one of the most highly compensated public school officials in the state, did not respond to a request for comment Monday about the nature of the talks, but told the Pomerado News, “The current situation is that the board and the superintendent have agreed that their relationship is not working well and we need to discuss our options going forward in the best interests of the district.”

Sunday’s meeting followed closed-door negotiations by the board about Collins’ employment on Nov. 30 and multiple closed-door talks about his evaluation since June. No action was ever reported.

The school board opted to not use the district’s current general counsel Dan Shinoff, whose law firm Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz has long-represented the Poway district.

If Collins does manage to broker an exit, it would end a rocky year for the 61-year-old who has led the district since July 2010.

The former teacher and principal has enjoyed unwavering support from the teachers union during his tenure, but he’s also faced raucous public criticism in recent months from a vocal contingent of residents who want him fired.

Among other things, Collins has taken heat for his involvement in teacher negotiations for pay raises that benefit his wife and himself. Collins’ decision to revise and soften a consultant’s scathing review of the district’s technology department before releasing it to the board and public also wasn’t received well.

Collins also continues to face blowback from the district’s notorious capital appreciation bond sale of 2011, which gave the district $105 million but will cost nearly $1 billion to repay. Earlier this year, district staff tried to rehire the same consultants who structured the original deal. The action was halted by four out of five board members who cited public opposition.

The CAB deal took center stage in the November 2014 school board election and led to the ouster of most incumbents, who were replaced by board members who ran on a platform of transparency and accountability. The costly bond deal is also being cited in a recall petition launched this fall that aims to unseat longtime board member Andy Patapow in order to replace him with someone who’d be willing to fire Collins.

The board will meet with Medina to provide direction at the next board meeting on Dec. 15. Collins told the board Medina will meet with his attorney, Lynne Lasry, sometime after Dec. 21.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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