The trustees of the Nevada Joint Union High School District remind me of some of the teachers I encountered during my younger days as a student: Don’t question our decisions, and speak only when spoken to.
Certainly, they are only interested in one-way communication when it comes to major personnel decisions in the district, and there have been enough of those in the last four years to make a taxpayer wonder if anybody’s truly in charge of this multi-million dollar enterprise.
Along the way, we’ve seen a superintendent fired just three months after getting a contract extension (she’s still on the payroll), two principals switching jobs with no explanation and a veteran administrator balking at moving to another high school.
The board has been sphinx-like in its explanations of why these moves were made, but we’ve been getting some insight into what’s going on with the recent announcement by trustee Richard Baker that he won’t be seeking another term on the board.
Among other things, Baker told The Union, “the majority of my time was spent on what I’d call ‘adults behaving badly,’ and I don’t feel like my time was being spent the way I anticipated.”
“I don’t feel like I wanted to spend my time on lawsuits against the district or issues related to bad behavior … I think you should be able to expect people to behave properly within a work environment.”
How’s that for a confidence builder?
Baker didn’t address the board’s management style, but the brief tenure of superintendent Marianne Cartan could serve as a textbook case in dysfunctional governance at the highest level of an organization.
Cartan became interim superintendent when Ralf Swenson departed for another job in 2010 and his replacement decided to take a better paying position at the last moment. Things started to heat up in March 2011 when Marty Mathiesen, principal of Nevada Union, switched jobs with Mike Blake, principal at Park Avenue Alternative, and Cathy Peterson, a longtime assistant principal at NU, was moved to Bear River.
Cartan insisted that Mathiesen requested the transfer. But when he was asked by The Union if that was the case, he said “No comment.”
Meanwhile, Peterson balked at moving to Bear River after spending 35 years at NU. “It’s a lateral transfer, but one I did not request nor do I want,” she told The Union. “Kids are kids, but NU is home.”
A couple of months later it was revealed that NU — the anchor school of the district — barely passed an accreditation review. What does that mean? If a school is not accredited, your child’s degree is worthless.
Cartan was given the permanent job and a two-year contract two months later and received a positive job review in December 2012, with an extension through June of 2015. She was fired three months later on a 3-2 vote.
What happened? Don’t expect any enlightenment from the board, which circled the wagons in true Old West fashion.
“I’m not at liberty to speak to the rationale because this is a personnel issue and is confidential,” said board president Katy Schwarz.
Trustee Wayne Klauer, who voted to retain Cartan and hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek re-election this year, was a good soldier when quizzed by The Union: “Usually Katy gives the comments for the whole board, regardless of how individual board decisions would go.” Fellow trustee Georgie Coulter, who also voted to retain Cartan and will seek re-election this year, was slightly more forthcoming:
“(Cartan) has attempted to affect many things that needed correction … She should have more time, but the board didn’t vote that way …” But Cartan continued to draw her $135,000 a year salary and will finally go off the books next month.
A special meeting was held one week later to discuss the process of selecting a new superintendent, but only Schwarz and Klauer thought it was important enough to attend. The Union filed a suit to try to pry an explanation out of the trustees through public records, but the judge ultimately sided with the school district. That cost the taxpayers $20,000 in legal fees.
There are laws in California that restrict what officials can say about personnel decisions, but that doesn’t stop trustees from articulating their vision of what they are trying to achieve and how they propose to get there. If they are divided on goals or are debating them, the taxpayers have a right to know that, as well.
A lot of people are getting tired of giving more money to educators who produce mediocre outcomes. They are also annoyed with educators and trustees who think they know best and don’t owe the taxpayers an explanation.
Baker indicated in his interview with The Union that the district is under financial stress, which means it will eventually come to us for more money. They’re not getting my vote until they convince me the money is being well spent.
George Boardman lives in Lake of the Pines. His column appears in Monday editions of The Union.