School’s out for McGuire
Longtime leader of Butte County schools settles on retirement
Jerry McGuire sounds positively giddy. At 59, he’s full of energy, itching to fish and pleased as punch that he’s decided not to seek re-election to the post he’s held for more than a decade.
That’s not to say the superintendent of Butte County schools won’t miss his co-workers, the support from the electorate, volunteering for children’s story time (he can still do that) and the opportunity to try out new technology and educational programs.
“That’s the hardest part of making the decision: all of the thousands of people who have been so supportive,” he said.
But McGuire figured he’d learn from the mistake of another McGwire—baseball’s Mark—and go out while he’s on top, not with some educational equivalent of Barry Bonds breathing down his neck.
His third term will be up in December 2002, and McGuire felt it wouldn’t be fair to wait to announce his decision, since the filing period to run for the seat opens next month.
“I knew that if I ran again, I wouldn’t serve the full four years,” McGuire said. “And if I start something, I’m going to finish it.”
As for who might be his successor, McGuire says there’s no heir apparent. Someone in his office has expressed an interest, but recent chiefs have come from outside BCOE. McGuire himself was principal at John McManus Elementary—which his wife, Cheryl, now leads—when he won election in 1990.
McGuire, who was born in Oklahoma, went to both Chico Junior High School and Chico High, where he hadn’t considered going to college until encouraged by his teacher, Les Wahl, who recently died.
“I was an average student. I wasn’t straight-A, [and] I came from a pretty humble background,” he said. It was Wahl who pointed out the then-Little League coach’s potential as a teacher.
“I was the first one on either side of our family to go to college,” he said.
He graduated from Chico State University in 1964 and later served in the U.S. Army in Europe. He and Cheryl, who live in Chico, have two children.
He’s earned pages full of awards and titles in his years working in education and volunteering on the side. He’s held seats on state legislative committees and lobbied for educational causes. McGuire is unfailingly friendly and is well liked in local circles.
McGuire believes he’ll be leaving the Butte County Office of Education in great shape for the future.
It’s the duty of the BCOE to watch over the budgets and other workings of all of the districts in Butte County, from the tiniest rural district to the 14,000-student Chico Unified School District.
If a district looks like it’s “moving toward insolvency,” McGuire said, the BCOE could pull in the reins. “With a district, a lot of time you don’t have continuity—you have leadership that comes and goes,” he explained. At the BCOE, “they have a better idea of the bigger picture—the longer term.”
Also, he said, BCOE provides support services, such as special education, the Regional Occupational Program (ROP), education for Juvenile Hall inmates, staff development and migrant education for most of Northern California.
For each district to run these things on its own, McGuire said, wouldn’t pencil out because “there’s no economy of scale.”
McGuire said he can understand why it might seem inefficient and costly to have a superintendent at each district, but Butte County is so vast that it would be hard for one person to oversee more than one district.
The Pioneer (also known as Berry Creek) and Feather Falls districts already share a superintendent, but the state requires that each district have its own board of trustees. McGuire said it might be more efficient if some districts unified and shared a board, but geography and community attachment could prove to be barriers.
McGuire has always taken the view, he said, that “I answer to the electorate.” That means not just doing a good job, but also getting out in the community and developing relationships with people—a type of public relations for the school system. “That’s my perception, that I think that’s what the job is. A lot of people get elected and you never see them again until they run again.”
His advice to whoever takes on the job after him: “To not take yourself too seriously.”
The toughest time, for him, was when “we went through several years when the state was in the economic doldrums.”
Asked about the recent contentious contract negotiations in the CUSD, McGuire said he was sure it would never get to the point where teachers would strike. “People said, ‘This is the time. They’re going to strike,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so.’
“I think you always have concerns when the relations get that tense and to that level. But I also think it’s hard for a lot of people to realize that’s the system,” he said, referring to collective bargaining, as opposed to the interest-based model he instituted with BCOE-related unions as soon as he came on board. “[That’s] worked very well,” he said.
He said the BCOE doesn’t get involved in negotiations, but “after the fact, the districts are required to provide the county office with their settlement, which we review to make sure the district will remain solvent.”
Of achievements while he was in office, McGuire said he’s proud that the office was on the cutting edge of new technology, even developing a software system that’s being used all over the state. He’s excited about the potential for distance learning. “I see we’re building a lot of new schools, and I see those schools being a lot like the old schools: They’re little boxes all hooked together … where we put students inside with a teacher,” McGuire said. Technology could help supplement, not replace, the traditional learning environment.
McGuire has always been an advocate of hands-on learning, but now, in retirement, he’ll have his hands on his garden tools and fishing pole.
“I could probably just work full time around the house,” mused McGuire, who hasn’t ruled out taking on some part-time consulting jobs.
But above all, he said, he wants to enjoy life. McGuire was good friends with Tom Evans, who had previously served as Butte County schools superintendent. Shortly before Evans died of cancer, McGuire visited him in Grass Valley. “He told me, ‘You know, there are other things in life, and you’ve got to get out and enjoy them.’
“I thought, ‘Why do I want to keep pushing it?'"