The movement to oust Mt. Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry flared into a full-fledged recall attempt as two elected school board members demanded his resignation Tuesday night.

Trustees Paul Strange and Gary Eberhart blamed McHenry for failing to right ongoing payroll errors. They lamented low morale that has seemingly fueled a parent-led attempt to tear away the highest-achieving schools from the district.

Both board members cited a need to dramatically shift directions.

"There must be change in leadership," Strange said.

McHenry, who came to the district in 1999, told the board that he refused to resign from the East Bay's second largest district. He acknowledged that the board had a right to buy out his $200,000 contract, which expires June 30, 2010.

"Let's negotiate the terms of the buyout, and I can move on," McHenry said. "I don't need to be subject to public ridicule."

According to McHenry's contract, the district would need to pay $300,000 to fire him this year.

The call for his resignation erupted amid fiscal and labor strife in the 35,500-student district. The board plans to cut $14 million from the 2008-09 budget and lay off nearly 10 percent of its staff. Without a settled contract, nearly two-thirds of those in the district's 1,900-teacher union recently cast ballots saying they did not think McHenry was capable of leading the district.


Chief Financial Officer Gloria Gamblin's departure left a gaping hole in the district's leadership team as it prepares to face monumental budget cuts.

"These are uncertain times," board President April Treece said. "And when there are uncertain times, we need solid leadership, not change."

Treece, Dick Allen and Linda Mayo defended McHenry by pointing to district successes. Four Mt. Diablo schools won a state Distinguished School Award in 2007. Six campuses earned the honor in 2006.

"Our school district is doing things right," Mayo said.

Strange said that he had concerns about ongoing payroll errors that first brought a fiscal crisis intervention team to investigate the district more than four years ago. Despite the intervention, teachers continue to be paid too little or too much.

Ayers Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jen Mucha said the district tried to take away $4,000 in pay after she returned from maternity leave, rather than the $400 that should have been deducted. She said they used the wrong salary and the wrong number of days worked to calculate her pay.

"All the numbers they were using were wrong," she said.

Eberhart said that other poor management decisions over the past few years undercut his faith in the superintendent.

In the fall, parents at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek complained that their children had no steady math teacher. Substitutes paraded in and out of the classroom for months as parents grew increasingly dissatisfied.

In November, parent Ruth Carver launched a petition to strip Mt. Diablo of its six Walnut Creek campuses, shifting them to the Walnut Creek and Acalanes school districts.

Eberhart listened to the parents' complaints at a meeting. He marveled at how the failure to simply fill a teaching position ballooned into a campaign to tear apart the district.

The festering complaints, he said, seemed emblematic of larger problems with McHenry's leadership.

"That's no way to run an organization," Eberhart said.

Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or