A week after hearing concerns about the top candidate for the superintendent job, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board Wednesday appointed an existing employee to temporarily lead the staff.

The naming of Matt Beecher as interim superintendent came as board members decided to slow down their search for Phil Alvarado’s replacement.

Alvarado retires June 30, and the board had intended to have his replacement selected by now, but instead extended the timeline for the superintendent search, according to board president Jody Oliver.

Instead, they named Beecher, who is the district assistant superintendent for business services, to be the interim leader beginning July 1 and continuing until the job is filled. 

Before casting the vote to appoint Beecher, board member Linda Cordero echoed an earlier speaker’s comments regarding the amount of time already spent searching for a superintendent. 

“We are dismayed at this point that we really do not feel that we are ready to name the person who will replace Mr. Alvarado,” Cordero said. “But we want to assure everyone in the audience that we will continue with the utmost care and respect for not only everyone who works in our district, but for every member of our community and every single one of our 15,000-plus students.”

Last week, members of the teachers union aired concerns about applicant John Ramirez Jr., who apparently was the top candidate for the job.

Ramirez has led the Alisal School District in Salinas for approximately five years. 

According to Monterey County media reports, Ramirez has been the focus of a sexual harassment allegation by a former employee, votes of no confidence from two classified and certificated employee unions in 2013, an investigation into reported misuse of a district credit card and censure of his teaching credential after pleading no contest to a charge of hit-and-run.

The Alisal district also has been at the center of fierce political battles. Once under state control, the district moved back to local control under Ramirez’s leadership.

On Wednesday night, several people spoke in favor of Ramirez’s hiring, including one who called him a “good fit” for the district and highly qualified for the job.

Ramirez recently met with a group of Santa Maria Valley residents, some of whom urged the board Wednesday night to hire him.

“We’ve met him and I think the experience he has had is a good match for our district,” retired teacher Helen Galvan said.

A letter read by Terri Zuniga, who serves on the City Council, supported Ramirez’s hiring.

During the meeting with approximately two dozen Santa Maria community members, Ramirez answered questions regarding negative aspects of his background, Zuniga said. 

“I was impressed by Mr. Ramirez’s forthrightness,” Zuniga said. “He did not at any time malign anyone, make negative comments about the parties involved or blame anyone. …

“His passion and commitment to the education of children, the educational system and the community at large was evident.”

After the board named Beecher the interim superintendent, Alvarado took the unusual step to thank the members for the extended timeline, adding that most decisions don’t have to be made quickly except in emergencies or safety matters.

“It’s obvious over the last two weeks that there needs to be time and you have time,” he said.

Alvarado said both Beecher and Pat Grady, assistant superintendent of human resources, are qualified to handle duties beyond their written job descriptions.

“Matt is probably the brightest business person in the state,” Alvarado said, adding that because the district runs with minimal staff Beecher and Grady are familiar with the duties of the superintendent.

Beecher has worked for the district for the past 10 years.

He will serve on an interim basis until a permanent superintendent is hired. For taking on the extra duties, Beecher temporarily will be paid 9.715 percent more than his regular salary.

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.