It didn’t take long for the freshly hired—and not yet even on the job—Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Cash to have a run in with allegations of controversy. Though he doesn’t officially take the reins here until July 1, Cash, whose hiring was announced last week, has already been on the receiving end of Internet-powered speculation and criticism about the sequence of events that saw him retire from his previous job as the superintendent of schools in Clovis, California, early last month only to quickly un-retire and return home to Santa Barbara. He cut his teeth here a decade ago as an administrator in leadership roles at, among other campuses, Dos Pueblos High and Goleta Valley Junior High School. Asked about the issue this week, Cash candidly explained, “I know that it appears rather strategic, but believe me, it was pure luck.” Then, adding with a laugh, “I’m just not that smart.”
In question was the fact that Cash, with little to no notice, hit the eject button on his job with Clovis just two years into a four-year contract, and did so right before his annual job review. By all media accounts in Clovis, the announcement caught everyone off guard, and when Cash explained that his decision was made in part because he had recently lost three close friends which led him to the conclusion that he wanted to spend more time with his family, the rumor mill in Clovis began to speculate that perhaps Cash had a few skeletons in the closet.
Cash told The Independent this week that such a scenario couldn’t be more untrue. His rapid retirement was made, he explained, because of the aforementioned deaths combined with the fact that he was running into a wall of politics with a few key board members in Clovis as he worked to help implement unavoidable budget cuts in the district. “Superintendents generally don’t last long in big districts like Clovis” explained Cash. “Especially superintendents that come from the outside.”
As for how exactly he came to be the last man standing after an L.A.-based firm led Santa Barbara Unified’s nationwide search for applications, Cash chalks it up to a case of serendipity that borders on something that “was just meant to be.” According to Cash, he first heard about Santa Barbara’s need for a new leader early this past winter, but, at the time, was not interested. In fact, to hear Santa Barbara School Boardmember Susan Deacon tell it (she worked on the superintendent search steering committee), Cash was identified as a good candidate early on, but preliminary invitations to have him apply were rebuked. In fact, the April 30 deadline for applications came and went without Cash throwing his hat in the ring.
However, right around that time, Cash, who in his words “assumed the Santa Barbara job had been filled long ago,” was coming to the conclusion that he wanted to leave Clovis. He was moving to Monterey and wanted to spend time with his family, he said, so he gave his official notice to Clovis on May 6, the same day he was scheduled for his annual performance review. “My plan was to retire and the Santa Barbara job was just not part of that decision-making process,” said Cash.
Things changed, though, in the wake of his retirement. A member of the search firm, Rudy Castruita— who had served on Cash’s PhD dissertation committee at USC a number of years ago and, as such, had remained in contact with Cash—reached out to him once again to see if he might now consider the Santa Barbara job. Turns out that the search committee had yet to find consensus on one convincing candidate despite the fact that the deadline had passed. “Basically, that was the only job I would be interested in,” said Cash, whose wife is from the Santa Barbara area. With his Clovis situation now quite different than it was when the firm first came calling, Cash officially applied, had his interview the week before Memorial Day, and his hiring was announced during a special meeting on June 8. “There is this conspiracy theory out there that he knew about the Santa Barbara job and had been offered it [before leaving Clovis], but that just isn’t true,” explained Deacon. “Really, if we had hired a different search firm, it probably wouldn’t have happened at all.”