Credit: Illustration by Chris Allen, VOICE

Hardy Brown Sr. | Publisher Emeritus Black Voice News

I heard Doc Ervin say these words at the school board meeting on Tuesday May 3, and I quote, “After careful thought and consideration, and really after close to 30 years of public service, I’ve decided to retire from the San Bernardino City Unified School District, effective July 1.”

He went on to say, “I know people are not going to agree with this or understand this – but in the best interest of the kids who attend our schools. I always think about, ‘this is bigger than me.’ Everything we do is bigger than me. It’s about kids. And I know that my presence sometimes can impact that, and I don’t want my presence to impact that and the work we do for kids.”

“After careful thought and consideration, and really after close to 30 years of public service, I’ve decided to retire from the San Bernardino City Unified School District, effective July 1,” said outgoing SBCUSD superintendent Harry “Doc” Ervin on May 3, 2022. (source: sbcusd.com)

The wisdom of Solomon

There’s a story in the bible of two women who had given birth three days apart while living in the same house. One woman’s baby died in the night because she had laid on the baby.

Recognizing she had killed her baby; she took the live baby at midnight from the other woman as she slept. When the mother awakens to feed her baby and discovers it is dead, she accuses the other woman of taking her child.

The issue was taken to King Solomon to seek justice in this dispute. With no eye-witnesses and no DNA test to determine who the real mother was, the king said divide the baby in half and give each woman a half. 

The first woman of the living child said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” The other woman said, “Divide the baby.”

In his wisdom,  the King gave the baby to the first woman. Why? Because the first woman wanted her child to live, be educated in school, grow up, have a family and make a contribution to society. The king knew that this mother put the needs of her child’s life above her personal needs and desires of being a mother and raising her son. You can read the full story in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Doc’s early retirement

What Doc was effectively saying with his retirement was, ‘even though it is not what I truly want to do, it is in the best interest of the students I want to help get a good education and go on to be productive contributing citizens in our society.’

Not unlike the mother who told the King, “I’d rather you give the baby to this lying, unfit woman than kill my child.” And the people said, “This is justice.”

Doc also said, “I do believe the future of the district will be better served by a superintendent who aligns more closely with not only the board’s leadership style but also its educational philosophy.”

Board members who connived and conspired

After listening to board members Barbara Flores, Danny Tillman and Abigail Medina during the last board meeting express their desires for students that included opening up classrooms and putting in pool tables, ping-pong tables, maybe some tables for checkers and chess games–this does not align with the educational philosophy of the community I know.

SBCUSD boardmembers Barbara Flores, Danny Tillman and Abigail Medina. (source: sbcusd.com)

I could not believe my ears, so I replayed the video.  We have board members talking about their educational objectives for our students to become pool sharks. Maybe they will have the students playing bid whist and pinochle, as well.

What happened?

How did we get to this “forced” early retirement of Doc Ervin, the first African American Superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District? 

He was hired on a 7-0 vote by the board less than a year ago and ousted May 3rd by a 4-2 vote of the board, with members Danny Tillman, Barbara Flores, Abigail Medina, and Dr. Scott Wyatt, all voting in favor of his removal. 

It was back in October 2021, when these same four board members wanted to fire Doc Ervin until the community showed up at a board meeting and scared one member, Dr. Scott Wyatt, who changed his mind. I guess it was hard for Dr. Wyatt to vote against his employer, County Superintendent Ted Alejandre, who spoke in support of Doc Ervin.

When Wyatt became board president and Tillman vice president, Dr. Margaret Hill said it was like “putting the FOX (Tillman) in charge of guarding the hen house”.

Purposely leaving a board seat empty helped ensure gridlock

After Dr. Hill passed away in late December 2021, the remaining six board members could not agree on her replacement, which resulted in a tie vote on anything Doc Ervin would bring before the board.

In a letter to board president Dr. Wyatt dated Feb. 9, 2022, Rev. Steven Shepard, pastor of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Bernardino, sought to drive this point home to board members when he wrote, “Mr. President, this begs to offer the question regarding why this board expects more from those whom they were elected to serve than they are willing to give to them in the areas of integrity, honesty, character and ethical practices and processes?”

“In eight months, we have still to hear the set vision, goals, and policies for our school district,” wrote Rev. Steven Shepard, pastor of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Bernardino. (stpaulamechurchsbc.org)

Shepard continued, “In eight months, we have still to hear the set vision, goals, and policies for our school district. It seems this board has tied the hands of the superintendent (whom you have unanimously selected) by board members placing their personal and political agendas and ambitions above those of the students, parents, teachers, and staff they were elected and took an oath to serve.”

Rev. Shepard used the words, “tied the hands of the superintendent.” It was on Dec. 6, 2020, I wrote about  what I knew some members on the board were doing since they could not fire Ervin. “Sabotage is something you must stay on top of because the “saboteurs” can be sneaky and cover their behavior behind well-meaning statements and actions that make sense to the hearer of those statements.”

Examples of sabotage against Ervin

Let me give you just two examples: Doc brought to the board a request for a management staff position to manage the 2,000 classified employees working for the district. The three board members blocked his request.

The labor laws governing these employees are unique only to them, so unique it requires a volunteer three member independently appointed commission to conduct grievance hearings on behalf of employees from bad decisions the school board makes. I know because I served on that commission for nine years and  overturned many board decisions because of inappropriate counsel/advice to school managers of classified staff.

The second example is Doc’s presentation to the board on a “Framework for Excellence” in educating the district’s students. I will not tell you the number of teachers, other staff, parents, community time and resources that went into preparing the roadmap for educating our children, but the three board members blocked its implementation.

“Sabotage is something you must stay on top of because the “saboteurs” can be sneaky and cover their behavior behind well-meaning statements and actions that make sense to the hearer of those statements,” wrote Hardy Brown. (source: theievoice.com)

Board members unafraid to speak the truth

This is how school board member Mayra Ceballos put it in a forceful and direct way by saying that, “As a member of the board she was being pressured to “show a united front and say that, ‘Nothing’s happening. Mr. Ervin’s deciding to retire early.’ Well, he’s not. This is a forced retirement. Make no mistake about it. When he came on board, it was a 7-0 vote. He’s leaving with a 4-2 vote. 

“Obviously, I didn’t vote for any of it. I voted against it. I believe he stepped on some very powerful or influential people’s toes in the district, and he is being run out of town. That is my personal belief. Whatever repercussions we have to face as a board, then we own up to them. That is accountability, the same type of accountability that we ask for our employees, that we ask of our students, high expectations. That applies to us, as well. We are accountable to people out in the community.”

“I still don’t understand what the conflict has been. I don’t see that he’s done anything wrong, aside from personality differences, rubbing people the wrong way. Are we adults here? I am embarrassed to sit up here. Let’s see how many others of our executives leave us. We’ve… wasted time, wasted resources, money.”

SBCUSD board members Mayra Ceballos and Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers. (source: sbcusd.com)

School board member Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers said, “I’m clearly disappointed at how we arrived at this place. The vote I made for a qualified and seasoned superintendent that I would support has never wavered. Yet here we are. We are now at an impasse when it comes to education, by refusing to work as one body toward the success of this district.”

A plan for the district

Now, at the end of the story regarding the king’s decision to divide the baby, the people saw the decision as justice. I do not see the decision by the board to accept Doc’s offer to retire as justice for our children and the community.

Doc is the only one who has presented a PLAN OF ACTION. Many people came together and gave input to it. The San Bernardino Teachers Association told the NAACP they did not like the plan but has been working with the administration on changes. I am pointing out that the leadership of the teacher’s association was invited to participate in crafting the plan but refused because of their relationship with, Tillman’Flores, Medina and Wyatt.

In my opinion, justice will have to come at the ballot box in November when you, the voters can remove, Tillman, Flores and Medina from office. It will not be easy because the Teachers Association will fund their campaigns in order to keep the status quo.

Hardy Brown, Sr.

Hardy L. Brown, Sr. was publisher of the Black Voice News from 1980 - 2012. An active community member, Mr. Brown periodically writes opinions for the newspaper on matters or interest to the broader community.