Suspended Rio Superintendent Gets Specifics of Accusations Against Her
May 9, 2003
Sandra Murillo, LA Times
Most of the 16 charges involve Yolanda Benitez's role in bilingual programs.
Suspended Rio School District Supt. Yolanda Benitez learned this week of the
specific charges levied against her in an ongoing school district investigation,
which has sparked protests from Benitez's supporters and a recall campaign
against two board members.
At an often raucous school board meeting Wednesday night, Benitez was apprised
of 16 charges against her, ranging from insubordination to manipulating poor
parents into remaining in bilingual programs by offering them food and clothing.
Most of the allegations revolve around how Benitez allegedly tried to impose a
pro-Latino, pro-bilingual educational agenda in the elementary school district.
"I'm shocked that the bilingual program is being attacked," said Benitez, who
declined to discuss specific charges against her. "We work very hard to get them
ready for an English environment and for it to be under attack like this, it's
The school board voted 3 to 2 in March to place Benitez on paid leave pending an
investigation into her administrative and financial practices.
The superintendent will be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations
in a closed-door meeting with the school board next month.
During Wednesday's meeting, an attorney for the district was asked by Benitez to
publicly read the allegations against her. The district's attorneys later
declined comment on the investigation, saying it is a personnel matter and
Specifically, Benitez, who has served in the district for eight years, is
accused of failing to inform parents of their rights in bilingual education
matters, instructing teachers to tell parents to sign bilingual waivers,
directing staff members not to move deserving children into mainstream
English-language classes and to dispose of any job applications from people
without Hispanic surnames.
Benitez, 51, is also accused of telling staff members to hide files in their
cars during a state audit of school records and of providing food and clothing
as incentives for parents to sign bilingual waiver forms.
The accusations against the superintendent, which were met by public outbursts
and even laughter by some of Benitez's allies who attended the board meeting,
are the latest in an increasingly heated battle for control of the tiny district
in the working-class community of El Rio just outside Oxnard.
"We believe these are probably the most divisive charges they could possibly
come up with," said Denis O'Leary, a Rio teacher and spokesman for a local
Latino advocacy group.
"I think the charges are basically complaints by a couple of individuals."
Benitez has accused Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn of orchestrating a
campaign to oust her. Tensions between the two strong-willed leaders began more
than two years ago after Benitez endorsed Flynn's opponent in the 2000
supervisorial election, according to the superintendent.
One of the charges read Wednesday night accused Benitez of doing campaign work
for a political candidate on district time. No other details were available.
Two school board members, Henrietta Macias and Ron Mosqueda, became the targets
of a recall campaign after they voted in March to suspend Benitez with pay
pending the district's investigation.
Board member Ernesto J. Almanza also voted for suspension.