Educational Doubletalk

Trey Smith

In yesterday's Statesman Journal, education reporter Tara McLain writes about State Senate Bill 755 which seeks to limit sweetheart “end-of-contract” payments to administrators of school district and education service districts (ESD). This issue has resonance in the Salem area as the former Superintendent of the Willamette ESD received a few extraordinary perks upon his resignation.

What I found to be most interesting about the article were the arguments by the opponents of the bill. While not agreeing with their initial argument, I can at least understand it. It is the position of the Oregon School Board Association that the problem that SB 755 seeks to address is a rare one and is generally corrected by the districts themselves.

If they had stopped right there, then I would feel their position was logical and rational. Unfortunately, they felt the need to add a second prong to their attack. Not only is the problem rare, BUT, they argue, it would devastate the ability of these districts to attract qualified administrators to open positions.

At this juncture, the addition of this second line of reasoning would lead the prudent person to ask: If sweetheart deals are rare and, when they do occur, are typically self-corrected by the districts themselves, why should this be a defining issue in the recruitment process?

It would seem that school boards want to have the option to use these sweetheart deals as a lure. If used as a lure, then it undermines the contention that the problem both is rare and self-corrected by the districts themselves. In essence, the opponent’s two-pronged strategy is nothing more than doubletalk with each prong contradicting the other.

  • LT (unverified)

    Had a very interesting conversation with someone in Sen. Frank Morse's office yesterday. The upshot of it was an agreement that if there was more recruiting of "homegrown talent" (is it possible someone living in the same county as the administrative opening might be at least as qualified and not need relocation funds or other "lures")then there might be better quality administrators at equal or lower pay packages, and the supt. would actually have an understanding of the local community.

  • (Show?)

    The "sweetheart deals" are commonly used to "ease" out poorly performing superintendents without the hassle of legal fees. School Boards are composed of ordinary citizens who are farmers, loggers, small business owners, housewife's, and the like. School Board members are all about saving their school district's money for the kids.. The board members rationalize that is cheaper to have a sweetheart deal rather than legal fees.

    Superintendents know this bit of information going in. Get a little vino in a room full of superintendents and you'll hear some of them bragging that they control their boards.

    In case you're not wise to poorly performing Supts, ask yourself where those folks go? Many of them run the ESD's, Educational Service Districts. Or those Supts participate in the annual dance of the lemons.

    There are some magnificent Supts, rare but magnificent.

  • Chris (unverified)

    Any person in a position fo leadership has a tremendous effect on the entire organization below them. Coaches, managers, superintendants; they are all in leadership positions. No doubt there are outstanding leaders and ones who barely show up.

    My initial reaction as a business negotiator and a candidate for an ESD board position, is that the legislation which takes the exit settlement option off the table, may benefit the ESDs. As long as the settlement options are there they will always be a temptation for the board. If used regularly they could become the "norm". Again, I don't know how widespread this actually is, so my thoughts are assuming that these "sweetheart deals" happen often.

    When one (i.e. superintendent) knows that a practice (in this case, exit settlements) is "customary" or "common", one will enter a negotiation demanding such. Once this practice is institutionalized it becomes an extra cost or barrier to firing poor performers. The last thing we want are barriers to getting rid of underperforming leaders. Leaders make all the difference, and or kids are worth high functioning ESD's.

    Sometimes it is best to spend legal fees to set a precedent. Once a new norm is established, the boards may have fewer problems dealing with poor performers. Besides, it isn't as though the superintendent in question wouldn't have legal fees too. Often times in contentious situations the party that wins is simply the party that doesn't blink. The boards tend to be led by superintendents who are less likely to blink because they are the leadership figure. Thus they tend to get what they want in an exit deal.

    If the boards won't blink, the sups will. Attorneys charge more than superintendents make. It's not as if the boards can't afford legal fees but the sups can. Legislation may force the boards to stiffen their backbones.

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