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PAUSD "trust" issue not limited to mid-level managers

Original post made by CP, JLS Middle School, on Oct 22, 2006

As a parent of children in Palo Alto public schools, I have to say that concerns about trust with respect to our senior management are not unique to the mid-level managers. My faith in this district was shattered by the disgraceful way in which it misled the JLS community about the situation with former principal, Joe DiSalvo, and the subsequent principal search process, which wasted a lot of people's time and money getting to a forgone conclusion.

The by-laws of the PAUSD Board of Education Web Link
state in the very first article that the public schools should reinforce the values of our democratic society, teach citizenship and provide an environment conducive to ethical behavior.

The senior management of this district conducts itself in a way that is antithetical to this statement, and sets a terrible example for our children, who pay close attention to how adults treat each other.

Do other parents and community members trust the senior management of this district with our children's futures?

Comments (14)

Posted by Find A Way
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2006 at 10:04 am

The local papers declared we were in crisis mode a few weeks ago. Since then, all we've heard from the board is that they were sending Scott Bowers over to talk to the management group and expected a report back for the October 11 meeting. We've heard nothing since other than rumors that the board is still trying to decide what to do and seems to need direction from the management group.

Perhaps the board should consider placing MFC on administrative leave until they resolve this issue. If the environment is as poisonous as some have stated, I don't think it's fair to ask the managers to continue to try to work while the board dithers. It would also force the Board to act with alacrity.

I'd be concerned if I were in the management group. The PAUSD board has a long history of cozying up to their one direct report. Their inaction suggests either timidity or hope that this will all blow over.

Posted by CP
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm

I fully support Find a Way's suggestion that the Board of Ed. place MFC on paid administrative leave until this issue is resolved. An interim superintendent could be assigned from the ranks of current principals who are respected by management, teachers, and parents. Scotty Laurence at Paly comes to my mind.

To spend the money and time for an outside agency to interview every middle and senior manager and draw conclusions based on that information could take months and cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, and may not even yield the conclusions that some, and I would venture to guess, a majority of the PAUSD staff, parents, and at least two board members already know in their hearts and minds.

Placing MFC on leave would allow an opportunity for an internal audit of her management practices by our own board and staff, and the cloud of discomfort that exists in the current work environment for our highly valued mid-level administrators would immediately be lifted.

But asking the board to do this will require an outpouring of support from the community, and not from just the usual suspects. People who have never attended a board meeting need to start attending, paying attention, and speaking out.

Members of this community who feel that MFC can no longer be trusted with the stewardship of this district need to start using their voices, and make sure they are heard loud and clear.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2006 at 1:22 pm

Who would do the internal audit suggested by CP? It can't be someone in the administration such as Marilyn Cook or Scott Bowers. CP - are you thinking the board should do this? If so, the full board or individual members? I don't know if I'd feel comfortable speaking to three of our board members. They've lost credibility with me.

I think the board needs to know SOON from the manangement group whether they trust the board or would prefer an outside person/group.

I do agree that MFC should be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome.

Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2006 at 3:45 pm

As stated prior, this thing is being kept behind closed ranks because there is no way that any admisitrator or program director could ever state problems publicly, as an individual, and avoid being branded as a "troublemaker". It's also a protective shield for BOE members. As well, it keeps community dissension at a minimum. There are clear payoffs to the current set of behaviors.

The suggestion to put MFC on administrative leave might be one interim solution, but it doesn't get to the core of the problem, and doesn't address the *obvious, immediate* solution that the BOE has avoided, minus the recent full-scale revolt.

For this board to be bringing in consultants and negotiators to solve a problem with ANY one of the senior executives who have been the essential cause of this problem is like playing a bad joke on the community.

Once dereliction of duty, or utter failure to communicate, has been brought to light in an organization like PAUSD, those in charge tend to lose leverage to a point where they have to compromise their prior behavior and beliefs to save their jobs.

So, we have years of dysfunctional behavior that's now going to be "analyzed", so that the BOE can decide what to do with administrators who have failed to perform to such a degree that their direct subordinates have rebelled, practically en masse? If MFC keeps her job, and other senior execs are not reassigned, replaced, or reprimanded, the latter group will essentially have rewarded for doing a poor job. Would a teacher or adminstrator get that much consideration, especially under the current regime?

What about a vote of "no confidence" does our board, or the senior administration fail to understand?

We're waiting for action, and a move forward - not band-aids that keep everything patched up while the same bad behavior pathogens continue to propogate in new ways, under the gauze.

It's really time for a change, so that PAUSD can bring in LEADERS, instead of 'managers with an agenda'.

Posted by CP
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 23, 2006 at 3:54 pm

Tom: I agree completely that management should not have to air its concerns with senior staff or board members it doesn't trust. Management should be able to choose one or two board members to listen to its concerns. I'm reluctant to support the idea of having an outside group come in and interview every single member of mid-level and senior management, because of the time and expense involved, and because such a process has never been used when dealing with other management issues.

Let's take a page from the district's playbook for the Joe DiSalvo situation. DiSalvo asked MFC and Cook to investigate a particular teacher because of an incident which made him concerned for his own safety and that of other staff and students. Rather than seriously looking into those concerns, DiSalvo himself was investigated, and on the basis of some hearsay from staff meetings and statements about the perceived culture at JLS, DiSalvo was placed on paid administrative leave and replaced with an interim. He subsequently resigned in exchange for a year's pay and benefits, rather than take his chances in a lawsuit with the district.

Since the district and Board of Education have never admitted to doing anything legally or ethically wrong in the DiSalvo situation, a similar process should be appropriate here. Place MFC on paid administrative leave and replace her with an interim. Select a small number of managers to represent the whole group, and have them speak in confidence to the designated board member(s) who can summarize the issues and communicate them to the remaining members, without naming names.

Meanwhile, MFC may see an advantage to retiring at the end of February with a monthly stipend and lifetime benefits. If not, the board will make a decision about her future employment in the district based on the information it has gathered.

If she objects to the process as being biased or unfair, then that would be an admission that middle management concerns are indeed valid.

Posted by Still Watching
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2006 at 9:55 pm

And the status of Dr. Callan's $500,000 interest free and payment free home loan so generously written into her renegotiated contract a few years ago is? Do you recall that this was done at a time when PAEA and CSEA (employee unions)were being told that they must give back and give up in multiple areas due to the 'budget' crisis at that time. If she leaves PAUSD, what are the repayment requirements? If she retires, as opposed to being terminated, what is the effect on this 'loan' as well as the other compensation clauses in her contract?

Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2006 at 1:53 pm

I agree with Still Watching, isn't anyone accountable for the taxpayer $$$ that may end up being paid out for consultants, mediators, termination/other agreements?

Posted by CP
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 24, 2006 at 7:49 pm

To Still Watching and anon: I wish I had all the answers to the "money" questions, but I don't. I do know that MFC's contract is pretty airtight, and extricating her from this district is going to cost us one way or the other. There's a good summary of these options in the Weekly issue of Oct. 11, but it doesn't answer the question posed by Still Watching about the home loan.
Web Link
And to anon's question about who is accountable, my answer is, most of the current and former school board members, going back to the ones who hired MFC and negotiated her contract. I say most, because there are two exceptions: Gail Price has been a very thoughtful, careful board member, and her questions and comments in public meetings and her voting record reflect that. Barb has shown that she is really smart and can think and act independently. I would very much like to add Dana to the list, but I think he's still on the uphill side of the learning curve and not ready to buck the majority of board members and the superintendent just yet.

The time to remember all this is when board members come up for reelection, or want to run for other public office.

But I'd like to get back to public trust. The school district exists to serve the children of this community. Our home values largely depend on how well the job is done. Does the community trust the current senior management of this district with this enormous responsibility?

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 24, 2006 at 11:31 pm

CP - do you honestly fear for your home value in the same breath as your concern about the education of children? But not to worry - both education and home values will continue to be just fine. (By the way, how long have you lived here? What are we averaging here over the past 5, 10, 15 years or more - 8-10% annual growth? Do we really have any business complaining or worrying in the grand scheme of things?).

As for the question of how all of this hot air affects the overall quality of education, my guess is hardly at all so far. If the situation festered for several years to the point where large numbers of administrators left or were forced out, and new hires were harder to attract, I might then wonder if school sites had the kind of leadership that would could effectively lead and innovate. But right now and for the foreseeable future, I doubt there's an observable system wide impact on the day-to-day quality of teaching and learning.

(FYI - I'm both a district staff member and parent).

Posted by CP
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 25, 2006 at 9:28 pm

SkepticAl: No, not in the same breath. I was trying to say, perhaps not very well, that even if you don't have school-age children anymore, you still have a reason to care about what happens in the school district. I've been here for 7 years, and have had children in 2-3 different Palo Alto public schools every year since then. My concern at this point is for the quality of education my children are getting. After they have graduated, I imagine that my primary interest in the school district will be for the value it imparts to my home.

You said "If the situation festered for several years to the point where large numbers of administrators left or were forced out, and new hires were harder to attract, I might then wonder if school sites had the kind of leadership that would could effectively lead and innovate."

The situation HAS festered for several years. If you don't think that new hires are harder to attract, then consider that the only principal hired from outside the district under MFC's watch was Judith Barranti at Fairmeadow, who is her friend and was appointed as an interim when Scott Bowers was promoted.

You say you doubt there's an observable system wide impact on the day-to-day quality of teaching and learning. I disagree. Test scores don't tell the whole story. If MFC doesn't stick up for her middle managers, they may become reluctant to confront any of the real problems at their schools for fear of upsetting the teachers or other staff. The day to day quality of teaching may take several years before it starts to suffer, but eventually it will.

I say, the board needs to take decisive action to address this problem before that happens.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 12:26 pm

The key words in Skeptical's comments were 'visible' and 'right now'.

Ever heard of termites? Ever hear of cancer?

You can destroy a house from the inside out. You can destroy a company from the inside out. You can destroy a person from the inside out - well before anything is 'visible' from the outside.

A problem doesn't need to visible, and the house doesn't need to falling down 'right now' in order for it to be uninhabitable. And ignoring it only makes it worse.

My vote would say, VERY BAD IDEA to wait until we can't hire teachers and people start leaving in droves before we actually take our heads out of the sand and believe something is wrong. Fix it now before it gets totally out of hand.

The board is playing with fire by not solving this yesterday.

Posted by Wolf
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 26, 2006 at 4:43 pm

CP has introduced the first rather objective MFC performance assessment idea that I have seen on all these threads: How did PAUSD do on principal hiring during MFC tenure, compared to the prior years.

Teacher hiring seems an improper measure -- we tend to hire them young, and they tend to be isolated from the top staff. Even resignations may be a worse measure than hiring, as principals and teachers quit for variety of reasons. If we have difficulty hiring principals from outside, or promoting from inside, this seems to be a good measure for the board to compare with pre-MFC years.

Posted by waiting for the light
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 27, 2006 at 10:15 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff for the personal attacks they contained]

So Wolf and CP, great for you to talk about looking at it long-term, but I *am* looking at it long-term and seeing a terminal malignancy in the Executive staff that needs to be excised, as Neighbor says, *yesterday.*

I went through the Palo Alto school system in its golden age, which is long gone. I am sick of hearing from uninformed or willfully blind people (including some Board members) that there is nothing wrong in this district. Let's get the Weekly to stop holding back and do a huge expose so everyone who is claiming that nothing is really wrong can hear the FACTS that have gone unmentioned for so long.

Still agreeing with Justice Harlan that sunlight is the best disinfectant. . .

Posted by CP
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 29, 2006 at 2:07 pm

To waiting for the light: I definitely was not suggesting to wait until the quality of education in this district starts to suffer. I do think the quality of our district has already deteriorated in many ways since MFC came on board.

I'm not interested in waiting to see when it filters down to the student level. Actually, anecdotal evidence suggests that that's already happening.

If you scroll up to closer to the top of this thread, you'll see that I'm in favor of the board placing MFC on paid administrative leave immediately, while an investigation is ongoing.

What I was trying to get at when I first posted this thread, is whether or not the community trusts MFC. I think a huge vote of "no confidence" from the community could help swing the one board member who seems to be on the fence, Dana Tom, and expedite this process.

It's very important that you attend the board meeting on November 2, and bring in as many people as you can to demonstrate to the board that we, as a community, care about this issue and will not let it go away. The action item on the process to address management team concerns is the last of six items beginning at 9:30 (see agenda at Web Link so it will be a late night. Come prepared to speak to the board on this issue if you can. Rules for addressing the board are on p. 3 of the packet in the web link above.

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