Superintendent Dave Marken handed in his resignation to the Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday, a surprise announcement that sent shockwaves throughout the community overnight.
It marks the second time in just over a year that the board and district have faced the abrupt departure of a superintendent; Marken's predecessor, Leslie Boozer, and the board mutually agreed to part ways in the middle of her contract in March 2019.
Marken, a former Dublin High School principal and Newark Unified School District superintendent, came out of retirement to serve as interim DUSD superintendent in April 2019 -- and two months later he agreed to stay on for two years, through the 2020-21 school year, to allow the district and board ample time to find their next permanent leader.
But something happened at the end of his first year that led him to step down, according to the resignation letter he released to the community on Tuesday.
"Leading a school district isn't for the faint of heart. I never expected smooth sailing. But I kept telling myself that I was asked to come here. Asked to upend my life. Asked to come back and bring my knowledge, experience, expertise and passion for students back here to Dublin," Marken wrote in part.
"So I came in with the best of intentions. Wanting to help. Wanting to lead. WHY? The WHY is the key question. The WHY is because of our students," he said. "Those intentions will not be met now. Those assurances that what I brought to Dublin is no longer desired."
"I am sorry that I wasn't able to finish everything I believed needed to be done. I want to apologize to our dedicated teachers, staff and administration. Most of all I want to apologize to the students and families in Dublin," Marken added. "I truly hope someone else can somehow, some way, get it done. But that person will not be me. I wish you the very best."
After Tuesday's board meeting, the district released an official statement expressing "deep sadness" over the resignation while thanking Marken for his service.
"His second tenure in Dublin is one that has ended far too soon and he will be remembered for all the good he has done in Dublin," the district statement read, in part.
"There was a point in the recent past where the district found itself on the brink," the district said. "It seemed unlikely that anyone could turn the ship around and create a sense of hope, but Dr. Marken did just that."
"Staff now, while the district faces the herculean task of starting school for the 2020-21 school year, at a time when strong, confident, competent leadership is needed, our ship is again adrift," they added.
Neither side specified reasons that led to Marken's departure.
The move came two weeks after a lengthy board meeting in which one board majority supported moving forward with a "choice model" plan for reopening DUSD schools next academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as Marken recommended. But another board majority that night, going against Marken's recommendation, voted down the proposed tentative agreement between DUSD and the Dublin Teachers Association.
Marken and his negotiating team were confident in the proposed union deal, including that the district could fulfill the financial obligations of the deal, but the board majority disagreed, wanting a more conservative fiscal approach without any compensation increases amid the budget uncertainty with state funding because of the COVID-19 economic downturn.
The rejection vote -- with trustees Dan Cherrier, Gabi Blackman and Catherine Kuo in the majority -- leaves the district and DTA without an agreement.
"As the leader of the teachers, of the certificated staff, I am devastated. We are angry, we are frustrated and we were committed to Dr. Marken," DTA President Roberta Kreitz told the Weekly on Tuesday night. "We had a superintendent who wanted to lead us, to guide us, to take us out of the dark shadows that we were in for so long."
Kreitz said that she doesn't think the DTA contract rejection was specifically the impetus for Marken's resignation, but more so it was the result of the direction that board trio seems to be taking the district with votes throughout the year. "It's solely on the shoulders of three of our board members," she added.
Asked where DUSD goes from here, Kreitz said, "I don't know. I really don't."
Marken's departure sees the district return to a position of instability at the top.
That was certainly the theme when he returned to DUSD in the spring of 2019.
Boozer had walked away as superintendent -- a mutual parting agreed to by the board -- for unspecified reasons that March in the midst of particularly tense contract negotiations with the DTA, to the point some union members cheered from the audience when the trustees announced Boozer's exit.
The board was also down to only three trustees for the five-member board after two midterm resignations at that time. (Blackman, for Trustee Area 4, and Kuo for Area 3 were later elected in separate special ballots, during Marken's tenure.)
Then in stepped Marken, who had retired as Newark superintendent in 2016 and was formerly an assistant superintendent and principal in Dublin.
First he agreed to be an interim superintendent, starting in April 2019 as part-time for pension reasons, but by that June he'd signed on to serve through the 2020-21 school year to lead the district while allowing the board ample time to recruit for a permanent successor.
During Marken's 14 months as superintendent, the district saw voters renew the $96 annual parcel tax under Measure E in May 2019 and pass another school facilities bond, the $290 million Measure J, this past March in the primary election held days before the pandemic hit California.
Now with Marken exiting, a district once known for its leadership stability finds itself without a superintendent for the second year in a row.
Boozer, who was hired ahead of the 2016-17 school year, was just the third superintendent in the previous 20 years. And Marken was only the sixth full-time superintendent ever since Dublin school districts unified in 1988.
"I love the people of this community, and the staff who give tirelessly in our schools and to our students," Marken said in his resignation message. "That love, that focus, on our children has to be at the core of anyone working in public education."