The $663,000 superintendent

It’s a nice job if you can get it. Jose Fernandez, superintendent of a 6,500-student district in California, was paid $633,000 last year, the local CBS station discovered. The Centinela Valley Union High School District also loaned Fernandez more than $900,000 at 2 percent interest over 40 years.

Fernandez runs three high schools, a continuation school and an adult education center.

This is what happens when government officials think no one is watching, writes Jason Bedrick on Jay Greene’s blog.

Naturally, in response to the citizens’ outrage upon discovering that the school board they had elected was squandering their hard-earned money, the Centinela Valley school board officials did the only responsible thing: They hired a media-relations consultant.

Meanwhile, teachers are complaining they have to buy school supplies out of their own pockets.

Eva Moskowitz, who founded the high-performing Success Academy charters in New York City, is controversial because she earns $475,000 a year. (Half her pay comes from private donors.) The 22 Success charters educate 6,700 students.

No credential, no job for Vallas

Once superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, reformer Paul Vallas is unqualified to lead the Bridgeport, Connecticut school district, because he lacks an administrative credential, a Superior Court judge ruled. She said Vallas can’t stay in the job while appealing.

The state board of education created an independent study program for Vallas to meet the credential requirements, which normally require 13 months of study at a Connecticut college or university. The judge rejected the board’s alternative.

Like a number of urban superintendents, Vallas isn’t a professional educator. “A longtime state legislative aide and budget director for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, he took over the job of running the Chicago schools in 1997 after the state put them under Daley’s control,” notes Governing. Narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary for governor of Illinois in 2002,” he was hired to run Philadelphia schools after Pennsylvania took them over. Then he went to New Orleans to run the Recovery School District.

“I think it’s bizarre that we’d allow paper credentials from programs with lackluster reputations disqualify a candidate with an extensive track record,” writes Rick Hess. “Seems to me like it makes a lot more sense to just judge Vallas on what he’s done, his skills, and his temperament. I think Vallas is an impressive guy and that it’d be a bad thing if he were actually pushed out of office.”

Normally hostile to reformers, Diane Ravitch published a defense of Vallas by a commenter who worked for him in Chicago.

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified, argues Dropout Nation, which sees an anti-reform turn on the school board. There are 32 cities within the giant district. “L.A. Unified’s bureaucracy has proven long ago that it is impervious to change,” writes RiShawn Biddle.

Superintendent John Deasy threatened to resign if pro-union Richard Vladovic, a former teacher, principal and superintendent, became president of the Board of Education. Vladovic became president last week. Deasy backed down.

Chicago: Brizard resigns as schools chief

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has resigned after only 17 months on the job. He will be replaced by the chief education officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former teacher and principal who ran the Cleveland school system.

Chicago’s education scene remains a powder keg, ready to erupt at the smallest provocation,” writes Joy Resmovits in a strike wrap-up in the Huffington Post.

“Some of the most controversial issues at stake in the strike have yet to be completely decided,” she writes. Committees are meeting to discuss conflicts over issues such as teacher evaluation. The district will spend an extra $295 million over four years to pay raises, which “many believe will cause layoffs” and school closures.

Being right isn’t enough

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

“A superintendent walks into an honors composition classroom, and sees students copying the school rules into their notebooks.  He turns to the teacher and says…”

The punchline took place last fall, but I only read about it today in the LA Times.  Apparently what the superintendent says in this particular joke is something along the lines of:

That’s why Deasy blew his top last fall when he encountered students in a 12th-grade English class copying a list of classroom rules into their composition books.

Busywork, he called it. An insult to their potential. A disrespectful waste of time in an Honors Composition course.

He told the students as much, then asked their teacher, Patrena Shankling, what they were supposed to be learning from this.

Let me just say that from the limited amount of information I have, he’s absolutely, 100% right.  It is busywork.  It’s a disrespectful insult to almost any high school class.  And, frankly, it’s probably (rank speculation alert!) the sort of thing that happens all the time in high schools.  (The mindless, stupid copying, that is, not the superintendent walking in.)

But as right as he might be, as righteous as his indignation may properly burn, he’s also a bit of an ass for going after the teacher in front of her students.  That’s not good management.  It’s not good leadership.  It’s not good manners.  If you really want, you can lean on the teacher, force an apology to the students later.  But going after someone in public is just going to end badly.  It’s the sort of thing you only do if you absolutely have to.

So in light of this criticism, it turns out that the teacher was also right when she objected…

Shankling was a substitute. It was the second day of the fall semester, and she was following the teacher’s lesson plan. She didn’t appreciate being scolded by Deasy in front of the students in her class.

But of course, as we know from seeing the superintendent in action, being right isn’t enough.  You also have to avoid acting stupidly, which seems to have been remarkably difficult in that classroom that day for several parties…

They wound up in a shouting match. She ordered Deasy to leave, he threatened to have her removed, she said.

One day later, Shankling, substitute No. 970595, was banned from teaching in L.A. Unified.

Let me say it again: being right isn’t enough.  You should also  be decent, and wise.  And being right is definitely not enough if you’re in a giant bureaucracy like the LAUSD.

On the other hand, when it comes to LAUSD superintendents, given the district’s track record, I might be perfectly happy with someone who’s just right.

Superintendents get the golden boot

Replacing a superintendent is expensive, reports the Chicago Tribune, which investigated more than 100 superintendent contracts, financial records and severance deals.  Call it the golden boot.

Stanley Fields resigned after just a year as superintendent of a suburban Cook County school district where he was put on leave, faced with firing and ultimately required to apologize to the community. Still, he walked away with a $100,000 severance payment.

He also had prematurely left his prior job, at a Lake County high school district, cashing out $30,426 in unused vacation. The school board waived a $60,000 breach-of-contract payment from Fields, now superintendent in another Chicago-area school district.

School boards avoid lawsuits by offering money, unlimited cash-outs of sick leave and — in one case — a Mercedes. “In many cases, the money funding a buyout could pay one or more annual teacher salaries,” reports the Trib.

Short-timers get big buyouts. Superintendents who resign to pursue other opportunities get buyouts. Some get one buyout after another.

The Dolton District 149 board placed its superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, on remediation and administrative leave before she left the job in 2003. She was described in an evaluation as “very harsh” toward parents, taxpayers, board members and staff, among other criticisms.

. . . Hope-Jackson sued and got a six-figure settlement, including title to a Mercedes-Benz, records show. She moved to Calumet School District 132, where she departed when the board said it needed new leadership, and then to Michigan, where an Ypsilanti school board forced her out last year. She filed a lawsuit there, which is pending.

It’s Excellence in Failure, writes Jay Greene, who dreams of being paid to not do a job.

I can be harsh!



Brizard will head Chicago schools

Chicago’s new schools CEO will be Jean-Claude Brizard, an education reformer who fought with the teachers’ union over performance pay as superintendent in Rochester, New York. A few months ago, 95 percent of teachers voted “no confidence” in his leadership.

Brizard “is not afraid of tough choices, and that is what Chicago’s students need today,” said (Mayor-elect Rahm) Emanuel, who has pledged longer school days and more accountability from teachers.

A Haitian immigrant, Brizard started as a physics teacher.

In his resignation letter to Rochester’s school board, Brizard touted what he said were his achievements while atop the 32,000-student district: Raising the graduation rate to 51 percent from 39 percent in three years; more than doubling the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes; streamlining the district’s curriculum; decreasing suspensions by two-thirds since 2006; carving $51 million out of the budget through more efficient business practices; and launching a 10-year, $1.2 billion school modernization initiative.

Emanuel also announced  seven new Board of Education members and a new executive team for the district, which Brizard helped select.


Bloomberg boots Black

Cathie Black is out as schools chancellor in New York City after 100 days of floundering.  Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who’s served as the mayor’s education adviser, will replace her. 

“I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped or expected,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who surprised everyone by naming a publishing executive with no education experience to run the school district.

A graduate of the city’s public schools, Walcott taught kindergarten for two years in Queens. He holds master’s degrees in education and in social work. As head of the Urban League, he helped develop programs to prevent students from dropping out.

“For the past nine years, Dennis has been a key part of all our education reform issues,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He has been involved in our schools at every level, as a student, as a teacher, as a parent and as a deputy mayor. His children, you should know, went to our public schools, and he has a grandson now in public schools. So I think there is no better person qualified to step into the job of chancellor at this point.”

Walcott was well qualified three months ago too.

Jennifer Freeman, an Upper West Side parent leader told the Times, “I guess zero was not the optimal amount of education experience for a chancellor, after all.”

The $1 million good-bye

An Indiana school superintendent received a $1 million retirement package, reports the Indianapolis Star. The Wayne Township School Board agreed to the deal with then-Superintendent Terry Thompson in 2007.  Board members now say they signed without knowing the costs.

Thompson, 64, retired in December after 15 years with the district. He received a year’s base pay at more than $225,000, hundreds of thousands of dollars for unused vacation and sick days, a $35,000 early retirement bonus and a consulting contract as “superintendent emeritus” that has been paying Thompson $1,352 a day to advise his successor.

That amount, over the 150 days laid out in the contract, would pay him more than $200,000 — bringing the total to more than $1 million.

In addition, the contract called for one other perk — a onetime $15,000 stipend for “retirement planning.”

Thompson already has collected about $800,000 but is now “negotiating” to resign the superintendent emeritus job.

Since 2007, Wayne Township schools have cut 127 teaching positions;  teachers did not receive a raise last year or this year. In addition, the district cut funding for elementary sports and math textbooks.

Cities try merit pay for superintendents

If performance pay makes sense for teachers and principals, what about superintendents? Some urban school districts are offering merit pay for superintendents, notes the Hechinger Report.

Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, will earn a bonus of up to $30,000 on top of her $190,000 base salary, if she meets a serious of improvement goals. Her predecessor, Bill Green, refused a pay-for-performance deal.

One third of the 65 districts that belong to the Council of the Great City Schools are trying performance pay for superintendents.

In most districts, merit pay for superintendents is based on test scores and the district’s fiscal health. Graduation rates, a key indicator for school districts, are tougher for a superintendent to influence.

. . . Fifty percent of Johnson’s potential bonus hinges on higher test scores and progress toward closing Minneapolis’ racial achievement gap. Improved relationships – between the district and the public, as well as between administrators and staff – can bring another 10 percent. The rest of her potential bonus will be determined by how well she puts in place a new instructional system, a long-range financial plan and budget process, an accountability plan and a data-management system. Progress toward those goals can earn her a partial bonus.

“What gets measured gets done,” said Tom Madden, who chairs the Minneapolis school board. “Bernadeia knows that and the board knows that.”

Merit pay for superintendents ranges from $5,000 to $75,000. But the big bonuses lead to complaints.  In Philadelphia, Arlene Ackerman came under fire for accepting a $65,000 bonus on top of her $338,000 salary in 2008-09.

Former Minneapolis superintendent Carol Johnson now leads the Boston Public Schools. She is eligible for a yearly performance bonus of up to $20,000 but has said she won’t take any bonuses or raises through the 2011-12 school year above her current salary of $275,000.

“I don’t think in a period where schools are cutting resources for children, any of us can expect to take raises,” Johnson told the Boston Herald.

No research links superintendent merit pay to improved student outcomes. However, it sends a good signal that accountability starts at the top, says Mike Casserly of Council of the Great City Schools.  “I think it sets a good tone for the people at the top of the system to hold themselves accountable.”