Sac City Unified chief Raymond to leave district in December

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond will resign his post and leave at the end of December, the school district said Wednesday.

Raymond, 53, has managed the large urban district during four challenging years in which the state slashed education funding and declining enrollment prompted the closure of seven elementary school campuses.

A former nonprofit executive and private lawyer, Raymond was the product of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business and education leaders how to run school districts.

He flashed an entrepreneurial streak as superintendent, reorganizing administrative offices with corporate-sounding titles, installing job protections for young teachers at struggling schools and proposing a website where families could compare campus data. Supporters saw his efforts as creative attempts to improve a struggling district; detractors said his business techniques didn’t translate well to education.

The district hired Raymond in 2009 with an eye toward improving student achievement, particularly at low-performing schools. With 47,600 students, Sacramento City Unified serves some of the region’s poorest students, with 68 percent eligible for free or reduced-price meal programs, according to state data. One-fifth of students are classified as English-language learners.

Raymond was unavailable for comment Wednesday. He will formally announce his resignation today at a morning news conference.

“I think he has been an incredible steward for our district for the last 41/2 years,” said Jeff Cuneo, president of the Sacramento City Unified School District board. “He’s brought a unique vision and a lot of important programs,” including the creation of “Priority Schools” – campuses to which the district sent more resources after years of low performance – and a commitment “to some of our neediest students.”

Raymond was lauded also for his role in pushing a “whole child” approach to education that included the school environment and emotional well-being of students in addition to academics.

He has said he had committed to four years with the district and then would assess his tenure. He reached the four-year milestone in July of this year.

Education leaders on Wednesday remarked on the difficult period in which Raymond operated since his hiring. Besides budget and labor woes, the district faced a federal lawsuit this spring over a decision to close seven elementary campuses – most of them in low-income neighborhoods in south Sacramento.

Parents, who later lost the case, had complained that the campuses were chosen because the neighborhoods had little political clout. District officials said the school enrollments were at 56 percent of capacity, a model Raymond called “educationally inefficient and fiscally unsustainable.”

In August, the district, along with seven other California school districts, was granted a one-year waiver from No Child Left Behind. As a condition of the waiver, the districts signaled their intent to implement an accountability system that ties student test scores to teacher evaluations – opposed by the teachers association.

Raymond also battled with the Sacramento City Teachers Association over contract provisions and layoff rules.

SCTA President Nikki Milevsky said membership has not forgotten the frustration members felt in the year following the 2010-11 contract signed with the district. That year, Milevsky said, the district began to have significant budget problems, and teachers agreed to give $95 a month back to the district to sustain small class sizes.

“We didn’t cut instructional minutes to the kids. We gave the money,” she said.

Milevsky said the district reneged on its agreement in the second year. It allowed class sizes to grow and “kept the money and used it elsewhere,” she said.

Raymond earns a salary of $245,000 yearly. He spent much of his day Wednesday sharing his decision with educators, board members and community leaders.

“I think it was a very difficult year,” said Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents Curtis Park, Oak Park and other south area neighborhoods where most of the seven campuses were shuttered.

Raymond’s bottom line, Schenirer said, is that “California underfunds its districts ... and we try to make do with budgets that are insufficient. And sometimes you need to make hard decisions.”

Outside a Sacramento courtroom in March where the district defended itself in a labor lawsuit related to the “Priority Schools,” Raymond told The Bee, “I’m tired, honestly.”

“It takes a toll physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s a lonely road,” he said.

School board member Jay Hansen said he was surprised to hear Raymond is leaving.

He called the last year “tumultuous.”

“I know it’s a tremendous amount of pressure, stress, hard work, long hours,” Hansen said, “and I think that wears everybody down.”

But he called Raymond “a solid leader (who) gave his best advice and opinions.”

Over the last 10 years, Sacramento City Unified has had four superintendents, including both interim and appointed leaders. It remains unclear how long the replacement process will take. The district hired Raymond after a national search process.

Hansen said he wants involve “staff, students, community partners and parents in determining what qualities and experiences we want to see in the next superintendent.”