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‘Manteca’ County Office of Education?

System led for 24 years by those with Manteca connections

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POSTED September 10, 2013 1:52 a.m.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the helm at the San Joaquin County Office of Education has been occupied by someone from Manteca.

For 20 years until 2009, the top post was held by Fredrick A. Wentworth who capped his 20 years as superintendent of San Joaquin County schools when he announced his retirement at the end of his term in 2009.

He was succeeded by another longtime resident from the Family City, Mick Founts, who ran unopposed for the elected position vacated by Wentworth. Founts was no stranger to the job. Prior to that, he served as deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent at the County Office of Education. In all, he has been working at the county office for 25 years.

Founts has recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election in 2014.

But the superintendent position could again go to another product of the Manteca Unified School District. This early in the election game, the two hopefuls who have made known their intent to throw their hats in the next election for County Office of Education superintendent are former MUSD educator and principal Gary Dei Rossi and former Manteca High School teacher Jeff Tilton who is also a graduate of the school where he taught. Dei Rossi said over the weekend, though, that he is re-evaluating his run for the top county schools job.

Both are no strangers to the County Office of Education. Tilton is a former administrator with SJCOE before and, in fact, co-founded the nationally renowned “one.” program with Founts in the 1990s. He is currently the deputy superintendent of schools at New Jerusalem School District in Tracy.

Dei Rossi’s background spans 38 years in various capacities – teacher, principal, district office administrator, assistant superintendent of curriculum, and deputy superintendent at SJCOE. He retired this year after serving as deputy superintendent at the county office. He is currently serving as president of Teachers College of San Joaquin, the first college at a county office of education accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Critics contend this has made the San Joaquin County Office of Education more like the “Manteca County Office of Education.”

Wentworth, Founts, Dei Rossi and Tilton are not the only ones from Manteca who have found employment at the county office. There have been many others who have served there in various capacities. And there are hundreds more who are employed there today.

But while the names of those who have occupied the key position at SJCOE in more than two decades have come from the South County city of Manteca, the employment figures provided by Superintendent Founts do not show the Family City as tops in the employee statistics. Manteca is home to just under 22 percent of all SJCOE employees.

According to figures provided by Human Resources Director Karen Y. DePrater, the county office has a total of 2,720 “active employees at this time.”

Broken down, the number of employees living in the following cities is as follows:

• Manteca – 588

• Stockton – 1,113

• Lodi – 116

• Tracy – 210

• Lathrop – 87

• Modesto – 104

DePrater said in an e-mail that the county office has other employees from other cities as well; however, “these are the largest number in the near vicinity.”

Among the employees from Manteca are the two daughters of the superintendent who work in SJCOE’s Excel Academy. Larissa is athletic director and teaches physical education. Her sister Rashonne is an enrichment instructor teaching elective classes at the academy.

Critics have inferred nepotism was at work but DePrater contends that’s not the case.

 “Dr. Founts was not involved in the hiring and/or interview process for Larissa or Rashonne Founts,” DePrater said. “A family member cannot participate in the hiring process, the decision to hire, or be the employees’ immediate supervisor and evaluator.”

Explaining how the hiring process for new positions or vacancies at SJCOE is conducted, she said it starts with the advertisement of the position “via Edjoin Online Application System.”

Applications from prospective employees are then turned over to Human Resources. The department in which the position is vacant then “paper-screens the applications” and selects the candidates who would be interviewed.

Comprising the interview committee are a supervisor/manager and “staff who directly oversee the position along with a human resources manager who facilitates the process,” according to DePrater.

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