Fired Atwater superintendent may soon get job back

FRESNO, Calif.

On Thursday night, trustees voted three to one to reinstate their superintendent.

The firing of Atwater Elementary School District Superintendent Melinda Hennes left many local residents stunned and upset.

The school board voted three to two in may to lay Hennes off and never gave a reason for her termination. One group even started a recall election against board member Sheila Whitley because she's the only one who voted for the firing who's not up for re-election in November.

"We were all just shocked with the firing of Mrs. Hennes, she's just a wonderful superintendent, has kept our district for 7 years in good financial, the student scores were going up, so to be fired without cause in one day, just absolutely shocked," Barbara Higgins said.

Board Member Kelly Fincher voted against the firing, and during Thursday night's meeting she asked her fellow trustees to re-consider the move because of budget concerns. She pointed out the high price of severance pay plus searching for and hiring a new superintendent. Board member John Hall agreed to change his vote.

"We were really surprised, we were sitting at home eating dinner and all of the sudden our phone started ringing and they said, "they just voted to bring Melinda Hennes back," and we were absolutely in shock," Roger Wood, organizer of the recall effort, said.

Mrs. Hennes told Action News over the phone she's waiting to comment on the decision until she receives formal notification by the board and chance to speak with the members. But many residents consider the vote a victory.

"We're delighted. We're thankful to Mr. Hall for changing his mind and seeing the light," Ramona Herkert said.

Board President Lena Mendoza had a different reaction. She voted against bringing Hennes back and released a statement saying, "I am disappointed that a board member has yielded to public pressure to change their vote. I want to assure the public that there has been no wrong-doing or violations of the Brown Act."

The board plans to vote again on reinstating Hennes at its meeting on July 10 because it was not on the agenda last night.

Meanwhile, Board President Lena Mendoza said Friday she does not plan to run for re-election. Board Member John Hall indicated he may resign after the next meeting.

The recall effort against Sheila Whitley is still moving forward. She was not able to attend Thursday night's meeting.

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