A visibly deflated superintendent left the Mt. Diablo school board meeting this week after trustees told him to lay off six of his top administrators.

Superintendent Gary McHenry was jolted Tuesday night when the board rejected his recommendation to eliminate six vice principals, then voted 3-to-2 despite his objection to eliminate six directors or assistant directors in the district office.

Even more stinging, trustees followed up with a 3-to-2 vote to cut his trusted aide, the senior administrative assistant to the superintendent, who also is the district's communications specialist and spokeswoman.

Trustee Paul Strange voted with the majority.

McHenry sounded beaten. "It's really difficult to stay motivated to do a job when it just doesn't seem like the board is going to support what you're going to do," he told the board.

"I just think that what is happening here is wrong. I do think that it's somewhat vindictive and retaliatory and I'm going to see what action I can take to address it in whatever form is appropriate."

Before the vote, trustees Sherry Whitmarsh and board President Gary Eberhart flatly announced they would not cut the vice principals.

"I'm trying to keep the cuts as far away from our children as possible," Whitmarsh said.

Trustees Linda Mayo and Dick Allen voted in the minority.

"The concern I have is that it's like we're going to be a house of cards and it's going to fall," said Allen, a former district administrator. "I'd like to know who's going to do the work."

McHenry said he did not recommend eliminating any of the positions. Taking his right-hand aide — Sue Berg — was unreasonable, he said, because it would leave him with one overworked administrative assistant.

"This is just an invaluable position for the superintendent's office and I'm at a loss to understand why you would want to reduce it," he said.

The board instructed McHenry to return Feb. 10 with specific recommendations for administrators to cut, which Eberhart estimated would save the district about $600,000. The list includes 16 directors and assistant directors responsible for areas such as curriculum, student services, personnel, technology and alternative education.

The board has cut about $5.8 million from its 2009-10 budget, on its way toward slashing $6.6 million, because of state funding reductions.

Theresa Harrington covers the Mt. Diablo school district. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com.