The Palo Alto School District has a problem, and it needs to be solved sooner rather than later. Only the board can solve it.
On Sept. 6 a “middle management” memo was written complaining about several issues – lack of trust between the middle and upper management, pay and benefit inequities, consistency of practice, etc. Middle managers are principals, assistant principals, program coordinators and directors and school psychologists. That memo was published on the Weekly’s Web site. Since then a big debate has emerged in town over who is right, who is wrong, and whether Superintendent Mary Frances Callan, who has been here since 2001, needs to go.
This is what I have learned so far from a number of conversations. The issue for the middle managers is really not about pay scales, vacation time and benefits, it is about a lack of trust between Callan and middle management, and a lack of communication between the senior managers (Callan, Associate Superintendents Marilyn Cook and Jerry Matranga, and Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers) and middle managers. It’s also about a perceived lack of leadership from Callan — leadership is being defined here as a lack of vision and academic inspiration.
The board is apparently divided in its support by Callan, and reportedly split 3-2 — but that could change. Three former board members (JohnBarton, John Tuomy and Cathy Kroymann) wrote a letter to the editor when this first erupted praising Callan and the other three, calling them “superb administrators who deserve our complete confidence,” and saying issues like this should not be aired in public. That letter sounded to me like they were saying, “Don’t air our dirty linen in public." It may have hurt more than helped Callan.
Ultimately, it is up to the board to decide what to do to solve this problem. No one else can. If the issue is trust, certainly Callan cannot “investigate” whether people trust her; this is clearly a board probe. If the issue is leadership style, ditto.
I sense board members are angry, and worried about the district’s reputation and future. The feelings are strong at the board level, and among some middle managers. And probably Callan is angry too.
The board is considering hiring an outside person to objectively analyze this issue, to quantify and qualify who feels what about whom. That may be in order, but if the board authorizes such an analysis, I would suggest that it be completed sooner rather than later. Too many parents/teachers/staff/board members have been involved to let this continue to simmer. And we all should keep in mind that any outside consultant can only tell the board what people think, but that person cannot make a decision.
The board cannot take a lot of time to solve this problem. It needs to be cautious but the problem cannot be tossed aside or forgotten. Callan just entered into another four-year contract, but these issues have been simmering, some say from the time she arrived, while others say they surfaced two years ago.
My sense is that all five board members are concerned; my concern is that they need to be as unbiased and objective in finding out what really is wrong and devote full attention to this issue. No longer can the board simply ask, “Can’t we all get along?”
Yes, only the board can solve this problem. Good luck!