Debbie Gold

Photo by Tony Kukulich.

Byron Union School District (BUSD) Superintendent Dr. Debbie Gold has stepped down. 

At the Nov. 1 board meeting, Gold announced her retirement, effective Jan. 1 next year.

“Last night, the board made some difficult decisions in an effort to stabilize the district budget. These cuts along with March layoffs will bring the budget to a qualified position and possibly a positive budget. Either way, it will no longer be negative,” Gold stated during the meeting, though she declined to comment further. “The last year has taken me as far away as possible from every single reason I went into education, and I am ready to work in that capacity again – with people, not numbers, and with positivity, not negativity.”

BUSD Board President David Turner said the only reason Gold stayed as long as she did was to ensure the district was on track to make necessary cuts to rectify the budget. 

“She saw that we had done so and asked for her retirement to be approved … The short-term plans are to continue making the cuts necessary to make sure we maintain local control of the district,” Turner said. “We will be meeting on (Nov.) 15 to finalize those cuts.”

For a small district hit hard by declining enrollment, state budget cuts, increased penchant and special education costs and what many have criticized as blatant mismanagement of funds, the announcement was met with mixed reactions.

“(Gold’s retirement) puts the district in a position that we can move forward now,” said Takeo Nobori, seventh-grade science teacher and teacher union vice president.

Turner didn’t disagree that new leadership would possibly help the community get behind more cuts, but he noted BUSD’s position was not unique and would not disappear without systemic changes at a state level.

“We’re going to be in this position year after year until funding levels increase back toward historic levels,” he said. “As long as we remain in a state that is funding education in the bottom 10 percent of the country, we’re going to continue to be in this position … The only way for us as a local community to get additional funding is for us to choose to fund the schools at a local level – something along the lines of a parcel tax. We as a community would have to choose to tax ourselves if we want the schools to have the funding they need.”

From the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE), Terry Koehne, chief communications officer, touched on the concept of a local parcel tax. 

“Part of the issue for Byron is that the cuts they need to make need to happen now and they need to happen prior to March 15, which is the deadline for layoff notices,” he said. “Hypothetically speaking, a parcel tax could certainly help in the long term, but as far as their immediate concerns, these are reductions that are staring them in the face.” 

On the topic of Gold’s retirement, Koehne said he knew she did not take the decision lightly.

“We know this was a difficult time for her and this was a very difficult decision for her, but we also know how deeply she loves the Byron and Discovery Bay community, which made that decision even more difficult for her,” Koehne said.

He went on to explain how the district will fare in her absence.

“The goal is to have a leader at the helm but here’s the practicality of it – we’re meeting with (Byron’s) board president to talk about the next steps,” he said, “and the next steps involve hiring an interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is appointed by the board.” 

To assist BUSD in its search for new leadership, Koehne said the county will help identify an interim superintendent and then conduct the search for a candidate to fill the position permanently, instead of leaving the financially hamstrung district to pay for the services of a hiring firm. 

Though he was uncertain what her new role would be, Turner wished Gold the best.

“She wants to return to a more education-focused role,” he said. “The time she spent in her first three years with the district, she looks back on fondly, and that was a time when she was focused on what was happening in the classroom and what was happening with the students – I think that is where her passion and where her skills and expertise lie.”

The board will convene Nov. 15 to finalize cuts to the budget.