Tuesday, October 23 , 2018, 10:40 am | Partly Cloudy 65º


Norm Clevenger Files Lawsuit Against Santa Ynez School District

Clevenger, now principal at San Marcos High, demands monetary damages and reinstatement to his Santa Ynez post, although he says he has no intention of returning.

Norm Clevenger, the popular principal hired to lead San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara just months after his controversial firing from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in February stirred parent outcry, has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Ynez School District.

Article Image
Norm Clevenger
In the writ of mandate, Clevenger is asking for monetary damages and reinstatement to his former post at Santa Ynez High, but he told Noozhawk on Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to leave San Marcos High.

“It was done prior to my interviewing for the position at San Marcos,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I have no intention in leaving San Marcos or returning to Santa Ynez High.”

The saga over Clevenger’s dismissal began Feb. 8, when Santa Ynez’s outgoing superintendent, Fred Van Leuven, informed Clevenger that he had decided not to renew Clevenger’s contract. Clevenger has said that Van Leuven’s decision amounted to a flip-flop: Earlier in the year, he said, Van Leuven had told him he would allow the new superintendent to make that decision.

Upset that the retiring Van Leuven was making the decision, Clevenger called school board member Joe Dugan to discuss the matter. A few days later, Clevenger — who had led the high school for nine years — was placed on administrative leave and escorted out of the building.

On Feb. 19, in an auditorium overflowing with parents, the school board decided not to renew his contract. The vote triggered an organized campaign to recall the school board, but the campaign, which claims it garnered 13,000 signatures, dropped the effort after Clevenger was hired at San Marcos. The group, Reformation of Santa Ynez High, said Clevenger’s hiring at San Marcos proved the point that the board was wrong. 

The lawsuit was officially filed on June 17, about a week after Clevenger accepted the position at San Marcos. But Clevenger said the last time he had seen the writ of mandate was in May, which is before he interviewed for the San Marcos position. At the time, he had to approve the paperwork for his attorney, he said.

Clevenger’s attorney, Bob Bartosh, said the late date is because of a back-and-forth negotiating exchange between himself and the school district’s legal counsel.

Clevenger is taking a pay cut to work at San Marcos High, where his annual salary will be $126,550. At Santa Ynez High, he made $132,000.

In the lawsuit, Clevenger alleges that the decision to fire him took place during an illegal secret meeting held by the school board, Bartosh said.

Specifically, Bartosh said that Clevenger tried to exercise his legal right under the California open meetings law — known as the Brown Act — to request a full public hearing, where complaints and charges against him would be aired. The public hearing was held Feb. 19, but, Bartosh said, Van Leuven’s testimony was insufficiently brief, in that he said only that he had lost confidence in Clevenger’s ability to lead.

“That isn’t ‘complaints and charges,‘“Bartosh said. “We are fairly certain there were complaints and charges discussed in closed session.”

The Santa Ynez district’s new superintendent, Paul Turnbull, said that neither he nor the district’s legal counsel could discuss the litigation.

Turnbull was a rising star in the Santa Barbara School District until he accepted the top job in Santa Ynez on Feb. 8, the same day Van Leuven told Clevenger his contract would not be renewed.

Meanwhile, Santa Ynez High’s new principal is Suzanne Nicastro, formerly the principal of Vandenberg Middle School. Her April hiring ran counter to speculation in North County media that Turnbull had intended to fill the position with another administrator from the Santa Barbara district: Dos Pueblos High School Principal Mark Swanitz.

Swanitz’s father, Jerry, had served as a teacher, coach and administrator at Santa Ynez Valley Union High for 39 years. After Clevenger’s dismissal, Jerry Swanitz was appointed to serve as the school’s interim leader.

“That was a very unfortunate supposition,” Turnbull said Wednesday. “I think (Mark Swanitz) is an excellent principal and an even better person. … It basically was conspiracy theories, and it’s unfortunate.”

At the time of the speculation, Mark Swanitz was asked by the Santa Maria Times whether he had applied. He responded that it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.