Is Callan's job secure? | October 11, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 11, 2006

Is Callan's job secure?

Superintendent's contract recently renewed for four years, and there is no indication the school board is in the mood for a change

by Becky Trout

Judging by letters to the editor and Internet postings, a highly vocal segment of the community would love to see Superintendent Mary Frances Callan leave the Palo Alto Unified School District.

These demands are easy to make under the cover of anonymity, but those in the thick of the district's current chaos seem inclined to stand by Callan, for now.

And due to the sensitivity of the topic, board members are reluctant to voice their thoughts on the superintendent.

"I give my performance feedback to the superintendent as part of our board evaluation and I don't want to discuss that with the press," board member Dana Tom said.

"It's really a confidential process for all the right reasons," board member Barb Mitchell said. "I think a delicate way for me to answer that is our superintendent's job is very difficult. At the same time, we have very high expectations."

The superintendent's performance has come under increased scrutiny following the Weekly's publication of a controversial document submitted Sept. 6 by many district middle managers that cited a lack of trust toward Callan and her senior cabinet.

The resulting uproar over the document's contents and its release has put pressure on Callan, the board and district employees.

Callan said she's never been in a situation quite like this and takes the matter very seriously.

"I think every superintendent faces many challenges. What you have to do is look at each challenge and take that and work toward a solution," she said. "The only way that I know and have seen modeled is that you work together ... toward a solution."

Callan said she doesn't worry about her job security.

"I don't have time to really look over my shoulder. Where I want to put my time is to move that mission forward," Callan said.

The board last evaluated Callan, who has been with the district four-and-a-half years, before her contract was renewed June 19. Details about the review are confidential.

"In a large number of areas, Mary Frances has done a fabulous job. Managing finances, she has saved the district a significant amount of dollars. ... I think no one's perfect at everything so I didn't expect her to be. ... My biggest concern is with communication," said board President Mandy Lowell.

Callan was signed to a four-year contract that provides a salary of $254.611.85 a year, plus health and life insurance, more than four weeks vacation and a $750 monthly automobile allowance.

The contract can be severed if both Callan and the board agree. In that situation, Callan would receive 18 months pay, or about $382,000, according to the contract. The board can terminate the contract if Callan has not fulfilled her duties, or if she has performed "in an unsatisfactory manner."

In both of the latter situations, Callan would have the opportunity to defend herself before the decision was finalized. She would also receive a smaller settlement. If her performance is deemed "unsatisfactory," she would have six months to improve.

Callan, 62, could also choose to retire. Under the California State Teachers' Retirement System or CalSTRS, educators aged 55 can retire. Due to her high earnings, Callan would receive a sizable monthly stipend.

If Callan retires after February 2007 — her five-year anniversary with the district — she will receive full health, dental and vision benefits.

The Palo Alto school district has only ousted two superintendents in its history, according to Bob French, a former principal who is compiling a history of the district.

Robert Johnson, who lasted less than a year in 1961 to 1962, had an "abrupt and arrogant style," French said. Johnson had the misfortune of following the highly collaborative and well-loved Henry Gunn as superintendent.

In 1919, Superintendent R.J. Wells and his demands for staff loyalty also survived less than a year in the top spot.

Should Callan and the superintendency part ways it isn't necessarily "the kiss of death," said Steve Davis, associate professor of education at Stanford, speaking of superintendents in general.

"Unless he or she has done something criminal, oftentimes they land on their feet and they go to another district and find another job," he said.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at>


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