Recent School Cuts ‘Crudely Machiavellian’

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John Lemon

A retired educator with over 30 years experience, including in administration, and Payson High School site council member.

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John Lemon

In the Payson Roundup of April 13, the “Our View” contained pointed remarks regarding the recent actions of the Payson School Board and the district superintendent. I believe that it was correct to say that there exists a lack of communication and a “bunker mentality.”

The Roundup, however, was far too pleasant.

In regard to the recent firings of the entire administrative team at Payson High School, the process was secretive, clumsy and crudely Machiavellian. There was no need for such a grisly mess and it should not have taken place.

As an educator with 30 years of accumulated experience and knowledge, I can confidently state that a number of grievous and gross errors in procedures were made.

In addition, professional and judgment errors taint the entire process. Sadly, none of this needed to occur and the school board and the superintendent were wholly responsible.

The board and superintendent stated that a Reduction in Force (layoffs) was necessary because of budget cuts. In such circumstances the best way to proceed is to establish the extent of necessary cuts and educational priorities.

For example, should cutbacks be done by seniority, lottery, evenly across-the-board, specific curricular areas, or just willy-nilly?

The superintendent should then establish a Blue Ribbon Committee consisting of administration, parents, teachers and perhaps students. Their task is to examine the parameters presented to them by the board and superintendent, gather information from sources within the school system and community, and formulate answers and various plans.

A Blue Ribbon Committee will often use the collective intelligence and collected data to formulate not one, but multiple options to achieve the necessary RIF. They then forward the recommendations to the superintendent, who relays the findings to the board.

The board can place the committee findings along with its recommendations on a meeting agenda for public input and board action — lots of sunshine and discussion.

In this case, it seems that all the superintendent did was place envelopes at schools and invite comments.

I do not believe that anonymous input from staff is the best source of opinion. This method particularly invites criticism from those who are angry or frustrated. A person can deliver remarks whether true, false or inane.

This method should have been only one small piece of data input. What about the community? What about data regarding student testing and student disciplinary numbers? What about questionnaires that could have been distributed to staff, parents, and perhaps students? What about historical evaluations of staff?

As regards the board: it is the job of the superintendent to educate the laypersons on the board about school law, common educational procedural practices, educational research, and other technical issues. There was an apparent failure to meet those responsibilities. The process was secretive, inhumane, lacking in communication with the community, and possibly manipulative.

If budgetary constraints drive the RIF and if educational goals such as student achievement establish the priorities, why were other logical changes of assignments at Payson High School not studied and then aired in open meetings?

The administrative team at PHS could have been offered split assignments. For example, part-time teacher and part-time administrator are not uncommon. Most assuredly the administrative team was not offered any alternatives other than possibly retiring.

To replace Roy Sandoval with a half-time principal who has no experience at a large, complex high school, does not have experience with PHS curriculum, has no experience as a supervisor of athletic programs and does not know staffing or student needs is ludicrous.

Financial, community, disciplinary, curriculum, maintenance, supervisory, human resource and other tasks must be performed precisely and according to school law. The training and supervision of teachers is itself a tremendously time-consuming task.

Administering a high school is akin to running a small town or a corporation and is governed by legal parameters and huge responsibilities to the community. More administrative staff will have to be hired, thus reducing the monetary benefits of a RIF.

The result is that the collective intelligence, memory, goals and plans of the administrative team have been eviscerated.

Teachers will be infrequently observed, supervised and assisted. Students will have lost a skillful leader and positive disciplinarian. Curriculum will be less modernized. Collegial staff meetings and supervision of the athletic programs will have to be reduced. In total, a high school that is applauded and successful has had leadership gutted.

Question: why did the board and superintendent decide to throw PHS to the dogs? Do they have nefarious secret plans to replace PHS administration with specific people? Did all of them attend Machiavelli College and major in Plots?

How could they so callously dismiss the PHS administration unless the board and superintendent dent are grievously inept and/or, despite objective evidence to the contrary, decide that PHS is not functioning properly due to the leadership.

If district leadership does have a problem with PHS administrators, they properly could have said: “You are not doing what has been asked of you. Here is what you must do. You have one year to improve your performance or you will not be re-employed.”

Tim Fruth’s agenda item specifically stated that the firing is for non-disciplinary reasons.

My understanding is that both Mr. Sandoval and Mr. Fruth received at least very good evaluations of performance. Thank you. You are fired.

At this point I question the judgment, competence, leadership and precedent established by the board and the superintendent. More, I question the ethical stance that underlies the decisions that have been made. There has been no communication from the board or superintendent that would lead me to any other position.

I urge that the firing action be rescinded. The board and superintendent should apologize for lack of communication and hurtful, needless actions based on what seem to be questionable ethics and personnel practices. The district leadership has lost credibility. The competence of the superintendent is questionable. Good, loyal, hard-working employees and their families have been shaken to the core.

Comments

don evans 3 years, 12 months ago

All I can say is "BRAVO". You have said what needed to be said and clearly explained the what I believe are the feelings and thoughts of the vast majority in the Payson community. The ball is in their court.

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