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Pleasant Ridge principal ousted amid investigation

Pleasant Ridge Elementary School Principal Derek Cooper has been placed on administrative leave amid an investigation by the school district and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

“We anticipate it will be for the rest of the (school) year,” said Pleasant Ridge Union School District Superintendent Britta Skavdahl on Friday. “We have an active investigation.”

At 5:31 p.m. Tuesday, a caller told the Sheriff’s Office that a pickup with a camper shell was backed up to a cargo container at the rear of the Pleasant Ridge campus, according to sheriff’s logs.



The caller said a person was loading items into the truck, and a deputy responded.

The deputy found Cooper loading old light fixtures into the pickup, Sheriff Keith Royal said. The principal told the deputy the lights had been donated to him for the school by a friend.




Cooper added he was returning the fixtures to the donor because of the district’s February vote to close Pleasant Ridge School after this year, Royal said.

“We don’t know that a crime was committed,” Royal said. “Does it belong to the school or him? That’s the question.

“We still have to interview people to confirm or contradict his story,” Royal said. “If there is anything at all, it’s misdemeanor theft.”

Cooper could not be reached for comment.

Skavdahl said she could not discuss the specifics of the investigation because of California personnel laws.

Asked if there would be more information available in the future, the superintendent said, “I can’t give you a timeline at this time.”

The move to place Cooper on administrative leave was a joint decision by Skavdahl and the district trustees, she said.

Pleasant Ridge will be administered by two teachers, Skavdahl and Cottage Hill School Principal Scotia Sanchez for the rest of the year.

While it appears Cooper will not be back this year, his job was in jeopardy already.

The board voted to shutter the school to help shore up a $1.6 million district shortfall caused by declining enrollment and plummeting funds from the state. The equivalent of 17 1/2 full-time teachers have been cut for 2010-11, and class sizes will expand.

The board also voted to explore a plan to make the Pleasant Ridge campus a home school center next year, with an eye toward converting it to a charter school for the 2011-12 school year.

That plan is not in stone, and the district’s lawyer is still working on the charter conversion provision, Skavdahl said. Because of the uncertainty, she was unsure whether there would be any principal’s job to fill at Pleasant Ridge in coming years.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.


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