VISTA — Tensions finally boiled over Sept. 24 as the Vista Unified School District placed Superintendent Dr. Linda Kimble on administrative leave.
In a letter to parents, Vista Unified’s Board of Education President Rosemary Smithfield said the action is effective immediately and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matt Doyle was named interim superintendent.
Smithfield’s statement said the district will announce a long-term solution in mid-October. The board did not give a reason for severing ties with Kimble. Kimble could not be reached for comment.
The board will meet on Oct. 17 and is expected to formally terminate Kimble’s contract.
“We are confident that his experience and passion for our students, staff and community will provide a smooth leadership transition,” the district’s statement reads.
Kimble was the superintendent at the Anaheim Elementary School District from 2013 to 2019 and Monrovia Unified School District from 2009 to 2013 before being hired in Vista in 2018.
Shiloh Strawbridge, outgoing Vice-President of the Vista Academy Foundation, said she accepted the decision earlier. Once an ally of Kimble’s, Strawbridge cited many of the former superintendent’s decisions, such as closing Olive Elementary School, violating of the California Department of Education best practices, and attempting to shut down Alta Vista Continuation High School without board approval.
Additionally, the removal of 15 of 18 assistant principals at the elementary schools and denying General Murray Continuation High School students a trip to a leadership conference without notice, saying the paperwork was not filed. However, Strawbridge said the paperwork was filed months in advance and the students were only notified the day of the trip.
“There were decisions that appeared to counter California Department of Education procedure … and seemed to go against the Brown Act by withholding documents,” she said.
Pat Emaus, a math teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School, said Kimble and the board had been at odds for months. He said Kimble would withhold district staff reports from the board in an attempt to undermine staff.
However, he said the previous district board recognizes Kimble’s skill for passing bond measures. Vista voters approved Measure LL, a $247 million bond, in 2018. The board’s decision, meanwhile, is on the heels of it approving a controversial project labor agreement to benefit construction and trade unions.
While Kimble never took a public position on the PLA, Emaus, said the issues run far deeper than the PLA.
“I think she was a divisive leader and I think she made some poor decisions that made it difficult for Vista Unified in general,” he said. “She was getting in the way of some of the progress we were trying to make in Vista.”
Strawbridge agreed, saying Kimble has a history of targeting underserved populations, noting Kimble removed a popular principal at an Anaheim school and lost a court case centering on preventing parents in the Anaheim district from forming a charter school.
However, supporters of Kimble say she was removed due to personal objections over the PLA.
Former Parent Teachers Association president Luisa Stafford, though, said Kimble was great for the district, noting Kimble brought back art and music, including securing a donation of 1,000 musical instruments.
Of course, Strafford said, Kimble was the force behind Measure LL and leveraged her connections to improve opportunities for the students. Strafford also said the board bullied Kimble, noting the turnover of the board from the 2018 election.
In short, Strafford said the clash of personalities was too much to overcome, as well as the board approving the PLA, which some fear could result in the district losing millions of dollars to trade unions instead of completing every project in the bond.
Now, Strafford is worried the district, which has a negative operating budget, will spend thousands of dollars to search for a new superintendent.
“People were upset,” Strafford said. “Everyone that I’ve talked to is just devastated. Right now, the district is in a very serious and precarious position.”
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Strafford as former president of the Vista Teachers Association.