LETTER: In response to school board editorial

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By The Staff

In Robin Bass’ editorial of January 14th, 2009, advocating that the preliminary discussions regarding the evaluation of the local school superintendent be conducted in public, she presented several justifications for your view. But these assertions simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Her first justification is that taxpayers need to know “whether he was doing a good job . . .” The final evaluation instrument produced by the school board is, by law, a public document, available to any citizen and, I suspect, the subject of a story in the newspaper. Any person in the community can read it and determine whether the school board thinks the superintendent is “doing a good job.” In addition, whether they agree with the board’s conclusions or not, citizens can also make their own determination as to the superintendent’s job performance by attending school board meetings, phoning or writing the superintendent with questions, obtaining documents about the district’s academic and financial status, talking to their elected board members, and in many other ways. Conducting the preliminary, informal discussions of the superintendent’s performance in private does nothing to impede any citizen’s ability to arrive at a thoughtful, informed conclusion about the superintendent’s job performance.

Next, she suggests that if the board plans to discipline or dismiss the superintendent, “the public needs to know- and they need to know why.” By law, the board would be required to vote in public if it were to discipline or terminate the superintendent, and it must state its reasons in writing in the board minutes, a public document. Once again, this entire process would be conducted in public, and would likely be reported at length in the newspaper. Conducting the preliminary discussion in private about its ultimate public action again would do nothing to impede the public’s ability to know that the superintendent was being dismissed, or why.

Finally, Ms. Bass states that the superintendent is a public figure who “should have no expectation of privacy.” While I agree with her that the superintendent has a limited expectation of privacy, that issue is really not the point. It is the privacy of other school employees and even students that is jeopardized in an open conversation leading up to the superintendent’s final, public evaluation. Board members may want to raise issues regarding the superintendent’s handling of a personnel matter or a student discipline proceeding. These things are part of the superintendent’s duties, and are legitimate areas for the board members to explore and discuss in assessing the superintendent’s job performance.

But even if the superintendent has some diminished expectation of privacy, both other school employees and students enjoy a broad privacy right protected by state and federal law. To subject these persons to a public discussion of their private matters is ill-advised, unnecessary, and unlawful.

In conclusion, I would urge any citizen of any school district who has an interest in the job performance of the superintendent to attend meetings, ask questions, review documents, send e-mails, make phone calls, talk to board members, talk to teachers, or do any of a dozen other things that can provide volumes of insight into the performance of the superintendent and the condition of the district. These actions would provide them a far more complete and well-informed assessment of the superintendent’s job performance than they could get any other way.

V. Wayne Young

Executive Director

Ky. Association of School Administrators