BLYTHE, Calif – The Fort Bragg Unified School District (FBUSD) is one strange place.
It is from this district that a young Charles Bush graduated and later, with much braggadocio, returned as Superintendent years later. Mr. Bush is currently the Superintendent of the Palo Verde Unified School District here in Blythe, California.
In an introductory article written in the Palo Verde Valley Times, Mr. Bush regaled the reader with his past work experiences, yet did not mention his latest time in Fort Bragg. The Desert Independent has an outstanding CPRA request for his resume as presented for employment to determine if he even listed the FBUSD as his latest disaster. As we would later find out through newspaper archives, contacts with the Fort Bragg Board of Trustees, retired teachers and union officials, Charles Bush had a very toxic effect on that School District.
A bit of background…
The FBUSD school board is made up of five members that are elected at large from the district which is larger than the city limits. A current member, Jennifer Owen, was elected in 2001 and there was also an election in 2003.
After that, there were no school board elections until 2015.
Yes, you are reading that correctly.
Every time there should have been an election, nobody ran for office and subsequent members were simply appointed by the current membership. It was felt that this came about for two reasons: (1) they were not highly advertised; and, (2) no one was unhappy with the last several superintendents.
To be succinct, the Superintendent is the only employee of the School Board. All other employees serve at the pleasure of the Superintendent. The average length of service in any school district is three years as it takes one Board to hire him and the next disgruntled board to fire him. Life was lurching along through the recession and the voters had approved two different tax increases to improve the ageing infrastructure – all school buildings being more than 50 years old.
Four of the five board members that hired Mr. Bush had never been elected. They had basically been recruited by the sitting membership. If several people applied, they would decide on the one to choose.
As a result, the board became hidebound and unresponsive to the public. Any complaints in open session were met with rudeness, arrogance and often gaveled down by the Board President.
One Board member stated that Bush had been brought into get the Middle School out of Program Improvement primarily because he had such a "good" track record wherever he went. So he was doing their bidding, inclusive of the termination of the Middle School Principal at mid-year who was very well respected. The board had hired Bush so they doggedly backed him even though witnesses aver that there were five complaints to the board about his inappropriate behavior to female employees the first six months on the job. This was always handled in closed session.
In November of 2015, two board members stepped down as there was a concerted effort to get new blood on the board. Two new women were then actually put in place by the voting public, the first election in over a decade. By now, there was a concerted effort to recall the other board members and it got so far as a group taking out papers from the county, but Bush got the nod shortly after that and so the recall effort died down.
Ironically, there had been a push for small elected bodies to get aligned with the state and national elections to cut down on the time and money involved in holding small elections. Most other groups within the county had migrated their elections to those dates. FBUSD had not done so. One could surmise that Mr. Bush figured he could gain some employment time by putting off the next election that should have been in 2017 to the state election year of 2018.
The Bush administration had a very toxic effect on the teachers and staff. His early firing of principals and teachers managed to terrify everyone. Long-tenured teachers were afraid to lift their heads above the ramparts for a long time. As is, a group of retired teachers who considered themselves bullet-proof, were in the forefront of the battle to oust Bush.
The District had lost a number of good teachers during his two years as younger ones moved off to other and better-paying districts and older ones decided to retire. The principals of both elementary schools were lost – both who were doing great jobs for their schools. Some very excellent classified staff also moved off. This went all the way from district office staff through bus drivers and others. They had simply gotten tired of the drama.
A major turning point came about when the retired cook from the middle school wrote about what was going on in the school. Her comments were posted on Facebook and went viral throughout the district and many people learned for the first time what was happening. Mr. Bush subsequently informed her that she was banned from school property. One day he saw the husband of one of the MS teachers on campus bringing lunch to his wife. He was banned as well. Not exactly legal in either case, but Bush got away with it.
Early on Bush said that he was going to hire a third music teacher for the school district. It quickly became apparent that this was another FOC (Friend of Chuckie's) that he wanted to bring in. There was a perfectly competent and well-liked woman who had been serving as the band teacher. He couldn't fire her, so he simply pushed her into an elementary position to get her out of the way. His friend was hired and the band went straight downhill, giving only one concert in his term. Two days before the band teacher was to report for this year, he quit and took another job elsewhere.
To make a long story short, no one was found to replace him and the current superintendent put the program on "hiatus" for the school year. The school board was derelict in that they had allowed for the downgrading of the prior, capable music teacher in favor of an FOC. One source said that it would take years to build the program as there is no program for the first time in more than a century.
Such is just a part of the devastation that "Chuckie" wrought on a district ill-prepared to stand up to his bullying tactics, pathological lies and his need to curry favoritism and nepotism.
Please remember that the past predicts the future. A leopard does not change its spots. The cracks in his facade are already breaking through conversations and postings on Facebook from reliable people – not to mention the questionable "resignation" of the HS principal and the empty chairs in the business office. Again, we call upon the Board to protect good teachers and employees. As one person stated, "Who wants to come to work in a place where you may not have a job at the end of the day. "The closest example of administrative hubris here in PVUSD was when Dr. Yul Whitney made the "Cattle Call" announcement to 38 classified folks en masse at the "House that Guith Built" (District Office) telling them that they would be laid off in June.
Mr. Bush has proved to have been a very expensive administrator for FBUSD. He also had communication problems with the ELD populations, referring to those students as "our leetle brown ones." More on these issues in future articles. Mr. Bush, again, came to us without a Board background check. He was recommended by Kenn Young, County Superintendent of Schools. Dr. Young has long been a friend of PVUSD so we can only ask one-word question of him.
The next meeting of the Board of Trustees will be on Tuesday, January 17 at 6:00 for the open session at the District Office.