|Claiming "a crisis of leadership" in the Palo Alto Unified School District, members of the Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA) are calling for the Board of Education to rescind its appointment of Scott Laurence, principal of Palo Alto High School, to assistant superintendent.
They also want Superintendent Mary Frances Callan to resign immediately, not this summer as planned.
"The appointment was like a slap in the face," said Susan Charles, principal of Ohlone Elementary School and PAMA president.
"I think it is one more example of what we have been talking about and what for us is adding insult to injury."
The board, in a 4-1 vote March 13, promoted Laurence, saying he was actively being recruited to another district and that they wanted him to stay.
PAMA sent a letter to the board, a copy of which was received by the Weekly last week, with a series of conditions if the board wants PAMA to continue in a trust-building "organizational devlopment" process.
Failure to meet the conditions, including the top-level leadership changes, could jeopardize the group's participation in a district effort to address numerous concerns regarding district leadership, including a lack of trust, inconsistency of practice, preferential treatment and lack of communication.
"We continue to believe that the board's untimely appointment of an assistant superintendent was hasty and compromised the (organizational development) process," the PAMA letter states.
"This latest appointment is seen by many members as a blatant disregard of our concerns."
Present and past board members responded that appointing someone to a cabinet position without consultation with management has precedents in Palo Alto.
Board President Camille Townsend said she has looked through the record through the years and there is a strong precedent of people moving up in the system and being placed in positions without using a search firm, or even without consultation of management.
"There is no legal requirement whatsoever," said Cathy Kroymann, former board member from 1997-2005.
"In my time in the district there have been many people appointed at the district office that did not have an interview process," she said. "And sometimes there hasn't been a job description."
She cited the appointment of Sandra Pearson, retired Palo Alto High School principal, to a new position in the district office as an example.
"Sometimes you're in a position where you have a highly valued employee where you have to make a quick decision, and it's not the ideal way to make a decision," Board Member Mandy Lowell said.
"And it's tragic that this is taken as a slap in the face."
Laurence is maintaining a positive outlook despite the call for his promotion to be cancelled. "I believe we have the ability to work together in the best interest of the students in (the district)," he said in an e-mail.
"I have known a lot of the members of PAMA for a long time and believe we have an ability to move forward in a very professional manner."
As for releasing Callan immediately, board members would not comment, other than to say that a plan is in place to hire a new superintendent. Callan announced in December 2006 that she would retire this summer.
In addition to asking for the leadership changes, PAMA also wants three of its members to serve on the Superintendent's Selection Committee.
But Mike Castin of Leadership Associates, which was hired to find a new superintendent, said including non-board members would hurt the confidentiality of the process.
"Only the Board of Education is involved in the process," Castin said. "We do not involve employees or members of the community.
"We find that if we involve other people in the process we would lose candidates, and we would find it difficult to recruit candidates to apply as well."
Charles said she received a hand-delivered response from Townsend Friday morning but neither would elaborate on it.
PAMA members will be having dinner with the Board of Education on April 23, Charles said. According to Lowell, the dinner is one of a series of social dinners the board has with educational groups in the district.
"That's just business as usual."
Charles said she may discuss the "crisis" with the board at the dinner.
• Full text of PAMA letter to school board of March 29
• PAMA letter to the editor of April 13
Editorial Intern Susan Hong can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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