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Wife's promotion played a role in Modesto City Schools board member departure

(Debbie Noda/dnoda@modbee.com) - Gary Lopez's abrupt departure from the Modesto City Schools board last month was only partly because he was too busy, the reason he gave then. His wife's administrative appointment in the district also played a part.
(Debbie Noda/dnoda@modbee.com) - Gary Lopez's abrupt departure from the Modesto City Schools board last month was only partly because he was too busy, the reason he gave then. His wife's administrative appointment in the district also played a part.

Gary Lopez's abrupt departure from the Modesto City Schools board last month was only partly because he was too busy, the reason he gave then. His wife's administrative appointment in the district also played a part.

Lopez, 50, handed in his resignation July 11 after the school board meeting.

At a special meeting July 18, the board voted to hold his position open and fill it during the regularly scheduled election Nov. 8.

Lopez's third term would have ended Dec. 2; he already had announced he would not seek re-election.

Reached at work the next day at the Modesto Fire Department, Lopez said he resigned because he was doing too much. Asked if his wife's career was part of his decision, he said she was set to start teaching in the fall.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 1, Denise Lopez was confirmed as Marshall Elementary vice principal.

It was the next regular meeting after her husband's resignation.

Gary Lopez said the vice principal's job was one of five such openings. If he hadn't stepped down when he did, "she would have missed that," he said.

Denise Lopez was on leave last year, finishing a master's degree and developing their family business, he said.

Gary Lopez, who has retired from the Fire Department, said he works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their home-inspection business, managing 12 inspectors between Sacramento and Kern counties.

Strict rules

Denise Lopez had been promoted earlier this summer, he said. "She worked a day and they rescinded the job offer — because of me, because I was on the board," Gary Lopez said.

Superintendent Pam Able confirmed that description.

"After she applied and interviewed for the job, we found out that going from the classroom to administration is considered a promotion — even though the only reason she was making more money was because she was working more days.

"The rule is that an employee whose spouse is a board member can't receive a promotion, and that is why we had to rescind our offer to her at that time," Able said.

In his letter of resignation from the school board, Lopez said: "Personal constraints have become increasingly difficult for me to devote the necessary time to fulfill my duties on the board. Business and family factors have also contributed to my decision."

Board President Sue Zwahlen said she didn't ask if there was anything more. His leaving would only be an issue in case of a tie vote in the next three months, she said, and by leaving the seat vacant it won't be an expense for the district.

"I assume there's a savings since he's not being paid," Zwahlen said. Board members get $688.75 per month and health insurance, she said.

Board Vice President Rubén Villalobos said he, too, had accepted the letter at face value and felt Lopez's resignation would not be a problem.

"I'm glad Gary was on the board through picking the superintendent — not that we don't still have work to do, but the heavy lifting is pretty much done," Villalobos said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339.

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