The mediation session between Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby and his teachers, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 3, was cancelled Friday.
Although Payson Unified School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels declined to discuss his decision in depth, he did admit that phone calls from RCMS teachers to the Payson Roundup were at least partly responsible.
"It was a factor," Weissenfels said. "It was kind of, shall we say, the icing on the cake. Frankly, you look at a cake, the biggest chunk isn't the icing, but it's the one that breaks the back."
PUSD had hired a professional mediator in an attempt to resolve an ongoing dispute between Larby and more than half of the 36 teachers at that school.
In a letter to the PUSD governing board dated Dec. 10, 2002, 20 teachers asked for "outside assistance" to improve a "school climate that has eroded to the point where many teachers are unable to foresee a positive outcome." Specifically, the teachers questioned Larby's "ability to provide leadership," and claim he "harasses certain teachers, besieges the faculty with sudden mandates for which no prior warning has been given," and is "often unable to control his temper."
According to a middle school teacher who asked not to be identified, several teachers were summoned to the superintendent's office and questioned about their roles in the controversy before the mediation was cancelled.
Weissenfels intimated that the window of opportunity for successful mediation is closing fast.
"It will probably still be in February or not at all, because after that it's not going to work," he said. "It just gets too late in the season to get anything accomplished."
The superintendent also said, "The climate changed to the point that we don't believe (mediation) would be successful, and neither did the mediator when I talked to him ... Everybody involved has to feel like the same purpose and that just wasn't there."
Weissenfels expressed his regrets, but said he had no choice.
"I'm disappointed it didn't go forth, but the conditions just weren't right for a productive outcome," he said.
He also expressed hope for a solution through continuing efforts by Larby to bridge the gap between him and his teachers. Those efforts include programs to identify and match personalities, and another that focuses on enjoying your workplace.
"I know Frank has committed himself to make the efforts to improve things," Weissenfels said. "He told me that (Friday) morning. That won't stop. We've made some progress and hopefully we'll make more progess.
Weissenfels said he should know "in a couple of weeks" whether another attempt will be made at mediation.