|Petitioners' Concerns||The Ultimate Superintendent Evaluation|
Given the intensity of feelings and lingering concerns surrounding this personnel action we believe a clarifying statement from the board may be useful.
We begin with a summary of petitioners’ concerns. (All quotes are from the written petition.)
Petitioners raise concerns about the complexity and efficacy of the board’s governance policies in general. We will not undertake a lengthy response. Petitioners primary concerns appear to be elsewhere.
Moreover, anyone curious about the philosophy and principles of John Carver, the board’s rationale for adopting his approach, and the specifics of its policies will find the relevant documents readily available.4
We briefly note that, details and vocabulary aside, there are two fundamental goals of this model: (1) To establish a clear understanding between any organization’s CEO5 and its governing board,6 in writing, regarding their relative roles. And (2) to provide, in general, that the board will focus on policy and long range planning, and leave the day-to-day administration to the CEO.7
These basic principles are, in fact, followed to some
degree by most successful organizations – however they may choose to describe
what they are doing.8
Petitioners believe that “the board has failed to monitor the superintendent’s performance.” This is presumably the basis for their proposal that “the board review the performance history of the superintendent,” and the related suggestions listed above in the summary of their concerns.
In fact, the board has, does, and will continue to monitor the superintendent’s performance. The board fully agrees with petitioners’ assertions as to the importance of doing so. This is expressly recognized in the board’s governance policies.9
The procedure it uses is one that is common in many organizations. It holds regular closed-session evaluations, as provided by law,10 at which board members freely raise with the superintendent and each other such concerns as may have arisen since the last evaluation.
Concerns may come from a board member’s personal experiences with the superintendent. More often they are the result of stakeholder communications in the form of e-mail, phone or other conversations, or group meetings. Indeed, the concerns raised by petitioners are precisely the kind of items that are routinely carried into such evaluation sessions.
As we explain below, the board’s public statements regarding any superintendent are but two: (1) that s/he has been hired, and (2) that s/he has been fired. The lack of board members’ public comment about the superintendent’s day-to-day performance may appear to reflect a lack of monitoring. All it reflects, in fact, is a lack of the public reporting of such monitoring.11
The confidentiality accorded these evaluation sessions
by law12 is simply
reflective of everyday experience and values. It is not just a matter of
social mores and human decency, it is an administrative and practical necessity.
Nor are these principles limited to superintendents.
Most organizations, whether as a matter of law, internal practice, or both, respect the confidentiality of personnel evaluations, records and actions. In any event, such confidentiality is the general rule in this school district, and we believe most district stakeholders would want that to be the case.13
Such confidentiality is most often in the employee’s best interest. Laying the full evaluation of any of us upon the public record – complaints and kudos, embarrassments and accomplishments – is not something most of us would welcome. Most employees, and especially administrators, are very likely to have their fair number of detractors as well as fans.
The employee in question has not presented the board either with a request that the details surrounding the resignation be made public or that others be permitted to make that request. Petitioners do not represent that the employee seeks such publicity, has encouraged, or even authorized, their appeal.
Petitioners refer to “the process used to elicit the resignation” of the principal. They question the policies that “empowered the superintendent to handle the resignation in the manner he chose.”
However, petitioners have provided us no specific, or supporting, information regarding the “manner” or “process” to which they refer, or that a process was used to “elicit the resignation.” We would be disinclined to repeat, or evaluate, such supporting information on the public record even had it been presented to us.14 But in fact it was not.
We also note that what the board was presented by the employee, via the superintendent, was a “resignation.” Over the past year the board has received and accepted the resignations of two other building principals – also without board explanation or comment. Its acceptance of this employee’s resignation was consistent with past practice.
We express no view as to whether this resignation was “elicited” or even what that might mean.
Sometimes resignations are unilaterally tendered. Other times they are negotiated to the parties’ mutual satisfaction. Whatever the circumstances may have been in this case, any employee has a range of options in such circumstances. Especially is this so with an employee under a long term contract, as was the case here. And we note in this connection that to this day the board has had no communication from the employee in question other than the letter of resignation.
We think it is certainly understandable – and perhaps
even commendable – that district stakeholders would express their deep
disappointment over the departure of a principal of whom they are fond.
But we do not believe that their disappointment is grounds for abandoning
the district’s policy of confidentiality.
This board agrees with those students of management, including John Carver, who believe school boards should hire and fire superintendents and establish their guidelines, but then leave them free to function without board prior participation in the superintendent’s decisions.
Moreover, even after the fact, the standard for evaluating a superintendent’s performance by a given board member during interim, and ultimate, reviews is not whether the member would have done precisely what the superintendent did.15 The board has created governance policies imposing responsibilities, and constraints, upon itself.16 One of those is its obligation to ensure the superintendent’s accomplishment of the district’s goals (ends policies) without violating its executive limitations.17 That is the standard a board member should apply.
The public not only may, but should, share concerns with
the board – as petitioners have done in this case. We thank them for doing
so. Their concerns have already been given serious consideration by the
board, and either have been, or will be, carried into superintendent evaluation
sessions. But beyond that the public cannot expect to participate in, or
know the content of, the confidential board-superintendent evaluation sessions.18
Necessarily, the personnel decisions made by a superintendent are central to his or her responsibility and authority. That is one of the reasons the board has expressly removed itself from prior participation in personnel actions other than those involving the superintendent.19
It is not just that it would be administratively chaotic, if not disastrous, for seven board members to involve themselves in personnel matters. It is also unlikely that the substantive decisions would be better, on average, than those made by a knowledgeable, fulltime professional who works with the employees in question.
After all, the superintendent’s compensation, and even
continued employment, turn on his or her ability to work with colleagues
capable of ensuring the accomplishment of the ends policies that constitute
the superintendent’s job description.20
There is a difference between (a) being heard and taken seriously, and (b) prevailing. In this case, petitioners enjoy a measure of both.
Petitioners have presented their position with both skill and force. They have been heard. They have been taken seriously. The concerns they have raised either have been, or will be, taken into account at the next closed session evaluation of the superintendent.
To the extent they have not prevailed in some particulars we hope this opinion may at least provide some insight into the board’s process.
Appendix A 21
1. The written petition is attached as Appendix A.
Although not formally brought under the board’s appeals policy, in effect it was informally treated as such by the board.
That is, the written petition could be thought of as similar to an appeal from a superintendent’s decision. It was like the “written statement” required by the policy when requesting a “hearing” on such an appeal. On this occasion it was simply the request for an opportunity to address the board during open discussion.
Because all board members wanted to hear from Ms. Hanick, more than the three board members required by the policy essentially decided on the spot that an oral presentation, or “hearing,” was desirable. That presentation was then made by her, primarily by reading from the group’s written petition.
The “ICCSD Board Policy Appeals Process,” Adopted March 28, 2000, is available from the District’s Central Administrative Office and as a link from http://www.uiowa.edu/~cyberlaw/governance.
2. The board recognizes that there may well be other stakeholders who might have signed the petition had they been asked to do so – some of whom were present at the board meeting on March 27. But the 12 who did sign it are the ones now before the board. They are, in alphabetical order, Mary Lu Callahan, Kay Colangelo, Patty Grabinski, Penny Hall, Pat Hanick, Martha Holm, Nancy Millice, Peggy Mills, Kathy Patience, Bonnie Sierk, Mary Schlueter, and Nancy Steyers.
3. The board’s executive limitations and other governance policies are available from the District’s Central Administrative Office and as links from http://www.uiowa.edu/~cyberlaw/governance.
4. Ibid. Those links include the full text of an article by John Carver, and references to his books and Web page.
5. In the case of a school district this is normally the superintendent.
6. John Carver represents that his principles are equally applicable to a for-profit corporation, a non-profit, or a multi-person public governing body such as a school board.
7. The model further contemplates that what the CEO is administering is the accomplishment of the goals (which Carver refers to as “ends policies”) established by the board. Moreover, s/he is to do this within the “executive limitations” (the “thou shalt nots”) imposed on the CEO by the board.
8. This is not to say that most organizations are successful. As Carver points out, it is quite common for boards (a) to have not thought precisely about their role, and (b) to position themselves somewhere along a continuum between “rubber stamping” the CEO at one end and “micro-managing” his or her every move at the other. Carver contends there is no position along that continuum that is appropriate.
9. There is an express Board Governance policy, 3b, which provides: “2.The Board will assure Superintendent performance in achieving Ends and complying with Executive Limitations.” Even the so-called “old” Board Policies, 301.3, provide that, “The Board shall conduct an ongoing evaluation of the Superintendent’s skills, performance, abilities, and competence.”
10. Code of Iowa, ch. 21, provides, in general, that meetings of public bodies (including school boards) will be open to the public. It also provides for a substantial list of exceptions to that requirement. The one relevant here is ch. 21.5 (1) (i): “A governmental body may hold a closed session . . . to evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose . . . performance . . . is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation and that individual requests a closed session.”
The related “open records” law provides, in general, that “every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record . . ..” ch. 22.2 (1). But chapter 22 also provides that “the following public records shall be kept confidential . . . (11) Personal information in confidential personnel records of public bodies including but not limited to . . . school districts.” Ch. 22.7.
11. Petitioners say, “either the board knowingly approved of the superintendent’s handling of [the] resignation, or by default, the board unknowingly approved of the process.” There are, of course, other possibilities. But for the reasons explained in this opinion, we will not indicate on the public record, at this time, whether we approved or disapproved – either “knowingly” or “unknowingly” – the superintendent’s “handling of the resignation.” The opinion explains the procedure used by the board for its monitoring of the superintendent’s performance, and its rationale for the confidentiality accorded that process.
13. Although many district stakeholders who have followed reports of this personnel matter will know the name of the person involved, our reference merely to the “employee,” rather than referring to him or her by name, is an additional measure of our respect for both the person, and the principles of privacy, involved.
14. See note 11, supra. Some personnel matters involve legal restraints on board members’ comments – and consequences from a failure to honor them. Normally an employee would not make a formal appeal to the board for review of a resignation, and there has been none here. In termination cases, however, where there may be such appeals a board member’s prior involvement in the matter, or comments about it, may suggest a pre-judgment of the issues and subsequently disqualify him or her from participating in the appeal.
15. The standard, as spelled out in our executive limitations, Board-Superintendent Linkage policy 2b, is that:
“The Superintendent is authorized to use any reasonable interpretation of the Board's Ends and Executive Limitations policies to establish all further administrative policies, make all decisions, take all actions, establish all practices and develop all activities.”If and when the board believes this standard has been violated it has two options: (1) discuss the matter with the superintendent during a closed-session evaluation, or (2) replace the superintendent.
16. It should be noted in this context that the board is also subject to evaluation. Not only does it engage in self-evaluation of its effectiveness (including the kind of review of its governance policies urged by petitioners), but it also seeks the superintendent’s evaluation of the board’s performance vis-à-vis the superintendent.
17. Within the Board Governance policies is a “Board Job Description,” 3b, which provides, among other things that, “2.The Board will assure Superintendent performance in achieving Ends and complying with Executive Limitations.”
18. Just as there is an ultimate evaluation of the superintendent by the board, so is there an ultimate evaluation of the board by the public. It takes the form of the ballot box – a voter’s removal of board members from office by choosing to run against incumbents or supporting those who do. It is an evaluation used with some regularity in this school district.
19. Board-Superintendent Linkage policies 2a and 3a provide that, “The Superintendent is responsible for the actions of the staff; therefore: . . . 2.The Board will refrain from evaluating, either formally or informally, any staff other than the Superintendent.”
20. Board-Superintendent Linkage policy 2e provides that,
“The Superintendent is the Board's single official link to the operations of the District. As such, his/her performance will be measured in terms of the District's accomplishment of the Board's Ends Policies within the constraints of its Executive Limitations Policies.”In addition, the board has directed the superintendent to establish written performance plans for every administrator.
21. Appendix A
Open Discussion held prior to ICCSD School Board Meeting
Board Room at School Board Office
509 South Dubuque Street
Begins at 7:30 PM on March 27, 2001
As stakeholders in the Iowa City public schools, we are here today to express our concern about the process used to elicit the resignation of City High Principal, Dr. Trudy Day. More specifically, we challenge the legitimacy of the ICCSD school board policies that empowered the superintendent to conduct personal business in a manner that appears to have violated accepted professional standards.
Experimental Board Policies
Although we understand that existing board policy clearly delegates personnel issues to the duties of the superintendent, we strongly believe that Dr. Day’s resignation deserves board attention. We view Dr. Day’s resignation as a major challenge to the new, experimental governing process. We ask that the board follow its own policy of self-monitoring and investigate Dr. Day’s resignation as a means of determining the soundness of its new policies when they are transformed from abstract concepts to real life situations.
Violations of Executive Limitations Policies
According to our understanding of the new board policies, the ICCSD superintendent essentially can supervise however he/she wishes, as long as the Executive Limitations policies are not violated. Upon further study of these policies, however, we were unable to find any procedures that described the means the board would use to assure that its policies had been followed.
Based on the information we have gathered to date, we have documented at least nine instances in which Executive Limitations policies were violated during Dr. Day’s resignation process. They are (abridged):
1. The superintendent shall not violate accepted standards of professional ethics. (policy level 1)Based on a laypersons common knowledge of law, it would appear that violations to federal and state regulations also occurred.
2. The superintendent shall not fail to establish with [district principals] a clear
understanding of their levels. (3a1)
3. The superintendent shall not operate without written personnel policies that provide for effective handling of grievances and protect against wrongful conditions. (3b1)
4. The superintendent shall not prevent staff members from communicating with board members, especially any assertions that board policies have been violated or that [the policies] do not adequately protect their human rights. (3b3)
5. The superintendent shall not cause jeopardy to the district’s public image with respect to staff employment, nor conduct negotiations with other than the maximum possible mutual respect and good will. (2f)
6. With respect to staff of the District, the superintendent may not cause conditions that are inconsistent with the mission of an educational institution. (2b)
7. The superintendent shall not permit the board to be uninformed as [required] for its work. (2g)
8. The superintendent shall not cause decisions that are undignified. (2a)
9 The superintendent shall not cause procedures that are unnecessarily intrusive. (2a)
Board Position on Resignation Process
The public record indicates that the board voted unanimously to accept Dr. Day’s resignation without discussion or comment. We find this response extraordinary, given the magnitude of the event. We attribute the board’s unanimous acceptance of the resignation as a statement of board unity and as a testament to the considerable investment the board has made in developing the new governing policies.
Because the board has not addressed this issue directly, we have deduced that the unanimous vote can only represent one of two board positions. Either the board knowingly approved of the superintendent’s handling of Dr. Day’s resignation, or by default, the board unknowingly approved of the process. We find either position unacceptable.
Stakeholders’ Position on Resignation Process
As stakeholders, we vehemently disapprove of the method used to elicit Dr. Day’s resignation. We equally disapprove of the board policies that empowered the superintendent to handle the resignation in the manner he chose. We question the legitmacy of a form of governance that exempts the board from being informed of events that resulted in the resignation of an ICCSD principal. We challenge the soundness of a form of governance that is unenforceable.
According to existing board policies, we, as stakeholders have been entrusted to hold the board accountable for its governing policies. In keeping with this trust, we have found that the board has failed to govern in the following ways:
1. At the stakeholder levelSuggested Board Plan of Action
The board has failed to follow the mission of the Iowa City Community Schools, “…to work through collaborative partnership with families and the entire community.”
2. At the staff level
The board has failed to assure ethical practice toward professional staff.
3. At the superintendent level
The board has failed to monitor the superintendent’s performance.
4. At the board level
The board has failed to enforce its own policies.
1. At the stakeholder levelThank you for hearing our concerns. We are eager to work with the board and to assist in its review of Dr. Day’s resignation. Upon request, we can provide the board with documentation of the issues we’ve raised. Please do not hesitate to contact us. We are most sincere in our offer to help the board deal with these serious problems. Please, call us.a. The board becomes fully informed of the details of Dr. Day’s resignation.2. At the staff level
b. The board provides an appropriate public explanation of Dr. Day’s resignation to correct the slanderous rumors that cloud the event.
c. The board realizes the grave damage that has been done to the trust relationship between the ICCSD and the CHS stakeholders. We recommend that the board begin to restore this relationship by exerting its authority and selecting Dr. Day’s replacement. We recommend further that the preference of CHS stakeholders be weighted heavily in the final decision.a. The board attempts to restore the personal and professional integrity that has been stripped from Dr. Day as a consequence of failed board policy.3. At the superintendent level
b. The board reviews existing personnel policies that apply to all ICCSD principals and determines the quality and compatibility of these policies with board objectives.a. In accordance with good management techniques, we recommend that4. At the board leveli. the board reviews the performance history of the superintendent,
ii. the board identifies relevant strengths and weaknesses of the superintendent
iii. the board adjusts the existing Executive Limitations policies to reflect those characteristicsa. The board evaluates the soundness of the experimental Executive Limitations policies as they currently are written, and revises them accordingly.
b. In particular, the board must develop enforcement procedures to assure compliance with its Executive Limitations policies.
Mary Lu Callahan 354-4289
Kay Colangelo 337-7383
Patty Grabinski 354-8119
Penny Hall 338-8169
Pat Hanick 337-7834
Martha Holm 337-2725
Nancy Millice 337-6843
Peggy Mills 351-5471
Kathy Patience 339-8561
Bonnie Sierk 338-6884
Mary Schlueter 354-7905
Nancy Steyers 351-6078