Fina resigns after controversial hire at Canadian Valley Tech

The morning after the Canadian Valley Technology Center Board of Education named Gayla Lutts the next superintendent of the school, longtime board member and chairman George Fina resigned.

Fina, who had served on the board for 21 years, said he could not go along with the hiring of Lutts. He said the position had been advertised only on the school’s website and that Dr. Greg Winters, the school superintendent since 2009, had decided well before the March 5 special board meeting that Lutts would be his replacement.

“I was in the elevator at the Capitol on the first day of the session,” Fina said, referring to Feb. 6 when the state Legislature convened. He said he ran into the head of the fire safety training school at Oklahoma State University, whom he has known for years. Fina is a retired Oklahoma City fireman and past president of the State Firefighters Association.

“He says to me, ‘Well, I guess you’ve got your next superintendent,’” Fina said, referring to the conversation.He said, ‘Dr. Winters has been introducing Gayla Lutts to everyone as the next superintendent.’”

Similar comments were reportedly made by Winters at a meeting of some retired educators, also well before the career tech special board meeting.

Winters said he has never spoken to a retired educator group. “I don’t even know who they are,” he said.

The outgoing superintendent said Fina had signed off on the plan that led to Lutts being named his successor when he voted with the board to create the deputy superintendent position that Winters had proposed. That was in 2016 and Lutts was named to the post.

Winters said he had talked to each board member individually at that time about the plan to create the deputy superintendent position.

“I told them three and a half to four years ago I was going to retire and they could do one of two things. They could go the old-fashioned route and advertise the position or we could get one of these young ones and groom them to take over.” He said the board voted 5-0 to create the position and follow the plan. He said that unanimous vote included Fina.

Fina doesn’t see it that way.

“I’ve served on this board for more than 20 years,” Fina said. “I love this school. I can’t stand by and watch while this happens. This school impacts people’s lives.”

Fina said he holds nothing personal against Lutts, he simply believes she was not the most qualified for the position and blames Winters for micro-managing the process.

Winters said the position was advertised on the school website, which means it was seen system-wide among career tech personnel.

“We had several people apply for the position,” Winters said. “We had a professor from OU.”

“I never looked over the applications. I tried to stay out of it,” Winters said.

Fina wasn’t at the March 5 special board meeting. His wife had fallen, hurting her head, and he was with her at Integris Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon.

Winters said the board was “locked in” after interviewing Lutts. She and Canadian Valley instructor Jay Marks were the two finalists for the job after five people had submitted applications.

Fina said the job should have drawn interest from more applicants and he believes it would have if it had been “advertised properly.”

Winters said he did not want to go to the expense of advertising in The Oklahoman, the state’s largest circulation newspaper.

Former Canadian Valley instructor Bill Hulsey said the problems are deeper. He points to the departure of several board members over the past few years, some 13 department heads, as well as the school going through three chief financial officers in a four-year period. He said a school with a “$1 billion valuation” can afford to advertise its top position.

Fina also said it was not a coincidence that the school’s longtime accountant resigned recently.

Steven F. Cundiff, a CPA from Stillwater, had served as the “independent auditor” for Canadian Valley for 28 years. He was paid $25,000 a year for his work.

In his letter of resignation, Cundiff said, “This last year has been very challenging in trying to work with Tammy Ridgeway, chief financial officer. Our working relationship has continued to deteriorate and I no longer have confidence I can successfully complete my responsibilities as the district’s independent auditor.”

The letter was submitted Feb. 13.

Winters said he had “inherited” Cundiff when he came on board in 2009. He said he was never comfortable with having Cundiff help prepare the budget alongside the Canadian Valley business staff and “then turn around and provide us with an audit.

“I honestly believe it’s not a good idea to have the same auditor for more than five or six years,” Winters said. He said “fresh eyes” are needed to examine the books in order to protect the best interests of the taxpayers.

“We have a request for proposal out now and are expecting to hear from five or six of the top CPA firms,” Winters said.

Winters also called Ridgeway “tough” and said that may have made Cundiff “uncomfortable. He may have not felt comfortable with the increased scrutiny.”

As for three chief financial officers leaving in just four years, Winters said one was allowed to resign rather than be fired, while he had lost confidence in another and had told him so.

“He came in and resigned the next day,” Winters said. “I wasn’t going to fire him, but I made it clear he was going to have to work like crazy to win back my confidence. I guess he wasn’t willing to do that.”

Another longtime employee said he still has no idea why he was “pushed out.”

Michael Harrell served in the Information Technology department for seven years before being named IT director. He served in that position for three years, earning, he said, “perfect reviews” for his performance.

He said it came as a shock when he was told he was under “investigation.” Harrell said he was threatened with “never working in a school again.”

After a tense meeting with school administrators, he said he chose the offer presented to him.

“They paid me from December through February and all my time off,” Harrell said. “They gave me $20,000.

“I never used a curse word or made any threats, but I did raise my voice. I told them those bricks that were put in after the tornado, the ones that said ‘Canadian Valley Family’ on them, I told them that family is gone and they destroyed it.”

Harrell said he was then escorted from the campus by a sheriff’s deputy and told not to return.

“I don’t think they give people who are under investigation $20,000,” he said.

Lutts joined the CV staff in 1999 as Hospitality and Retail Services coordinator after teaching Family and Consumer Sciences at the high school level. In 2010, she was promoted to Student Services assistant director and in 2013 she was named campus director. She held that position until 2016 when the deputy superintendent position was created. In August she will become the school’s superintendent.

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