Luke Ontiveros
Santa Maria-Bonita School District Superintendent Luke Ontiveros is seen in 2016 next to a wall in his office displaying T-shirts from the district’s campuses, including one named for his great-great-great-grandfather. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

The leader of the largest school district in Santa Barbara County has announced his plan to leave at the end of the calendar year.

Superintendent Luke Ontiveros of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District revealed his departure at the end of a special meeting on Wednesday night, saying that Dec. 31 would be his last day on the job.

He arrived in 2016, and when his initial three-year contract expired in 2019, he renewed it for two years.

“When the board approved that contract in July 2019, it was my intention at that time to retire at the end of the 2020-2021 school year,” Ontiveros said. “However, as with virtually every plan over the past 20 months, COVID intervened. I informed the board last spring that I would continue beyond July 1 as we traversed the reopening of school, established a response to independent study requirement, initiated COVID testing for employees and students, etc., etc.”

He noted that the California Education Code allows a superintendent to continue working if a contract had not been renewed. 

“As we’ve crossed the threshold of the new year and adapted to a new normal as a result of the combined efforts of the entire SMBSD community — staff, students and families — I have informed the board that my last day as superintendent will be Dec. 31, 2021,” he said.

Next month, he said, the school board likely will hire Leadership Associates to conduct the search for candidates for the top job.

“The timing of this announcement will enable SMSBD ample time to engage in the process and to provide a head start in relation to other districts that will be seeking a superintendent in the spring,” he said. 

Board president Linda Cordero said the panel has had some time for behind-the-scenes planning for the superintendent’s departure.

“Knowing what Mr. Ontiveros’ wishes were, we were holding out a little bit of hope that the circumstances would extend through the entire year, but we feel that we have a plan in place at this point,” Cordero said, adding that the panel would discuss the plan at the Nov. 10 meeting. “We realize that there is no endpoint in our efforts to achieve all that we want to to ensure student success. It is always going to be a pathway of continuous improvement, and we certainly appreciate your leadership efforts in that very direction.”

For the transition, the board will appoint Matthew Beecher, deputy superintendent of business services, to fill the top job on an interim basis. 

“I want to acknowledge and commend the entire SMBSD community for its collective commitment to positively impact the trajectories of the futures of our students,” Ontiveros said. “More important and impressive is the resolve and resiliency that has been demonstrated by everyone over the past 20 months in response to the challenges brought forth by COVID and have provided an example that working together we can accomplish great things.”

Ontiveros, a distant relative of Santa Maria Valley pioneer Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who has an elementary school named for him, grew up attending Santa Maria-Bonita schools.

He returned to Santa Maria after serving as the superintendent of the Snowline Joint Unified School District in Phelan, in San Bernardino County, a job he had held since 2013. That K-12 district has more than 8,500 students.

Before that, Ontiveros worked in the Ontario-Montclair School District, the Pollock Pines School District and the Silver Valley Unified School District

During his career, Ontiveros worked as a teacher and has held various positions, including assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and assistant superintendent of human resources.

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District has about 17,000 students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade attending classes on 21 campuses.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.