Gateway's embattled school board president resigns amid controversy

  • In Business
  • 2023-02-07 23:44:22Z
  • By Redding Record Searchlight
The Gateway Unified School District board of trustees voted Thursday to stop violating the state
The Gateway Unified School District board of trustees voted Thursday to stop violating the state's open meeting law.  

After two months at the center of controversy and the threat of lawsuits, Cherrill Clifford, the embattled president of the Gateway Unified School District board of trustees, has resigned from her position.

Her one-sentence resignation letter, turned in Monday afternoon, did not offer a reason for stepping down.

"This is to inform you that effective immediately, I am resigning my position on the Gateway Unified school board, effective immediately," said the district superintendent's executive assistant, Debby Boontjer, reading the letter.

Clifford did not return a phone message left with her Tuesday. She has not responded to numerous requests for comments over the past month.

About a month after being elected to the board in November 2022, Clifford joined two other board members in a 3-2 vote to fire longtime district superintendent Jim Harrell.

The move set off an uproar among parents, teachers and others within the school district community.

Board meetings became a focal point for anger at the three board members, who often voted as a bloc on issues.

Leanne Westphal, who is on the Gateway Citizens Committee, said Tuesday she had not heard why Clifford resigned from the board.

"I would say as a as a group, we're pleased that maybe she saw the writing on the wall, that she wasn't the right person for the job. She wasn't up to what it takes to run a school district. And obviously, the pressure must gotten to her, I would think," Westphal said.

In addition to issues surrounding the district's superintendent, the board also came under fire for allegedly violating the state's open meeting law, called the Brown Act.

The school district, as well as Clifford and two other members of the board, Elias and Lindsi Haynes, were sued last week for allegedly violating the district's own rules when they voted in January to bypass a board policy that sets the procedure for hiring a new superintendent.

According to school district emails, some members of the board were interested in hiring Bryan Caples of Redding, whose teaching and administrative credentials had been suspended Jan. 15 by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The suspension is set to be lifted Feb. 13.

One district email from interim Superintendent Steve Henson indicated Clifford signed a contract at the end of December to hire Caples, even though the board had not voted on the matter.

Caples ran for Shasta County Superintendent of Schools last year, but lost to incumbent Judy Flores.

Redding Adam Pressman, who filed the lawsuit against the district on behalf of the Gateway Citizens Committee, said the legal action only asks a judge to force the trustees to comply with their own policy, known as board policy 2120.

Because Clifford has resigned from the board, she is not likely under legal threat any longer, Pressman said.

Also during January, the board received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing the California Teacher's Association. That letter told the board it violated the Brown Act by voting to appoint Lindsi Haynes to head up an effort to recruit a new superintendent.

The board held public comment after it voted to appoint Haynes, which was a Brown Act violation, according to the CTA. The CTA letter said the board should have held public comment before the vote.

After receiving the CTA letter, the board rescinded its vote and approved a statement saying that it would no longer violate the Brown Act.

Shasta County Superintendent of Schools candidate Bryan Caples attends the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Shasta County Superintendent of Schools candidate Bryan Caples attends the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.  

But at its Jan. 18 meeting, the board voted to bypass policy 2120, which sets up a procedure for hiring a superintendent. That process includes advertising for the position, conducting background checks and interviewing candidates.

With Clifford off the board, it isn't clear how the trustees will proceed with hiring a new superintendent. The district also needs to fill the vacant seat on the board.

Boontjer said the district plans to advertise that it is seeking applicants to fill the board vacancy. The trustees will review applications and interview candidates during an open session of the board, she said.

Without Clifford, the board would no longer have a 3-2 majority. Westphal said she hopes the board doesn't deadlock on appointing a new trustee.

"I know as a group, we're hoping this doesn't tie the hands of the board, that maybe this will allow the four of them to find a way to work together better and maybe follow the policies of what school boards do and do positive things for our community," Westphal said.

Boontjer wasn't sure what would happen if board members are unable to agree on who to appoint to fill the post. She said the district is awaiting direction from the Shasta County Office of Education on next steps.

Reporter Damon Arthur welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834, by email at and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Gateway's embattled school board president resigns amid controversy


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