Donald Evans. Photo: Hayward Unified School District
Donald Evans. Photo: Hayward Unified School District

For much of the last two years, Berkeley School Superintendent Donald Evans has been working without credentials required by his contract.

In July 2014, a year after his appointment, Evans let his school administrative services credential and his teaching credential lapse. He finally renewed them on Jan. 4, 2016.

The Berkeley Unified School District Board is considering giving Evans a pardon for his inattentiveness. The board is scheduled to take action Wednesday to waive the district’s requirement that its top manager hold valid credentials. The action, presumably, would only apply to Evans.

“I am so embarrassed,” Evans said Tuesday. “I didn’t know my credential had lapsed. The state used to send reminders. It stopped doing it and left it up to school districts. Berkeley Unified doesn’t do it (send out reminders).”

Evans said the two districts in which he formerly worked, Compton Unified School District in Los Angeles County and Hayward Unified School District, alerted teachers and administrators when their credentials were up for renewal. He hadn’t realized that Berkeley Unified School District did not offer the same service. Evans said he lost track of when he was supposed to renew. When the lapse was brought to his attention, Evans paid the fee, he said. Evans has had his credentials since 1987, he said.

Not everyone regards Evans’ lapse as a mere bureaucratic technicality. A former BUSD teacher, Valerie Trahan, filed a complaint with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). She asked that the state group launch an investigation into Evans’ actions. The CTC  has the legal authority to punish teachers and superintendents, although punishment is generally for malfeasance, not for forgetting to renew a credential, said Josh Speaks, the legislative representative for the CTC. In most cases, the CTC just makes sure people come into compliance with the law within 30 days.

State education code actually allows a superintendent to work without a credential,  said Speaks. “District superintendents are in a special category. There is a section in the ed code that allows them not to have a credential.”

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler is the BUSD board president:
Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, BUSD board president. Photo: BUSD

The BUSD board consulted with the Alameda Office of Education about the matter, said Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, the school board president. (The CTC had automatically referred the issue to Alameda County). Officials recommended that BUSD adopt a resolution permitting Evans to work without credentials to keep his contract valid, she said. While Leyva-Cutler thinks that having a valid credential is important, she regards Evans’ actions as more of an administrative blunder than any failure of leadership.

“It is something that is important,” said Leyva-Cutler. “I have a credential that I have to renew. But it’s a formality in a sense because he has all the experience needed to be superintendent.”

Since Evans renewed his credentials, the Alameda County Office of Education does not believe further action is necessary, said Sid Haro, the chief of personnel and leadership.

The board is currently in discussions with Evans to renew his contract, which expires in June.

Since Evans was not credentialed to teach or to administer, Trahan said she thinks any ruling he made should be invalidated.

“During that time period any policies he acted on or implemented are not valid,” said Trahan, who taught history at Berkeley High until she retired in 2015. She also filed a successful complaint against BUSD for its use of Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review (BPAR), a program for poorly rated teachers. Trahan believes that it is geared toward pushing out certain types of teachers.

When asked which of Evans’ policies she would like to be overturned, Trahan referred to her suspicion that BUSD is squeezing out African-American and Latino students. In working as a substitute teacher this week, she noticed that the school seems less diverse than in previous years.

Trahan said she filed a Public Records Request to see what kind of students were given inter-district transfers, but the district has not given her any documents. She is worried that more white students than students of color are getting the transfer. She suggested this is one of BUSD’ s policies that she would like to have reexamined.

BUSD gives very few inter-district transfers because Berkeley High is already crowded.

Evans knows about Trahan’s complaint, but said the concerns of one person should not overshadow his three years of accomplishments in Berkeley.

“One person has made it an issue,” said Evans. “I think I have done some great work in the Berkeley Unified School district and I will continue to do some great work.”

One of Evans’ next tasks: making sure there is a system in place at BUSD to alert teachers and administrators when their credentials are expiring.

Leyva-Cutler clearly hopes Evans will get the chance to do that, and much more.

“There are things we need to work on and they take consistent leadership,” she said. “I think he is providing that for the district.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...