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There are no winners, only losers, in MUSD twist

If the stories in the media are accurate and the board goes through with terminating Ed Gonzalez as the superintendent of Madera Unified School District, at the end of the day, the community will pay the bill and the students will suffer the consequences. This turn of events is perplexing. In October 2015, trustee Fernandez said: “… [W]e are making a commitment to the superintendent to 2018 … . I would also like the superintendent, with this contract amendment, to make a commitment to the board as a whole, to work with us and to his best ability to work with all of us.”

So what has gone so wrong in the intervening 15 months to cause the board to resort to the nuclear option barely half way through the contract extension. Evaluations are subjective tools based on the evaluator’s personality, values, experience, expertise, etc. Without knowing the goals and objectives and criteria, it is difficult to assess significance, worth or quality for purposes of performance improvement. To the extent the superintendent’s performance is directly related to the performance of the organization under his charge, MUSD’s performance should be an integral part of Mr. Gonzalez’ evaluation. A perusal of the MUSD, CDE and related websites disclose the following highlights during his tenure that can be seen starting on Page A1 in this edition of The Madera Tribune.

By all accounts, based on an internal survey conducted, workplace climate, employee morale and job approval have improved dramatically. In that connection, since his arrival, Gonzalez successfully negotiated three contracts with the union thereby averting the acrimonious labor strife (including an imminent strike) that regularly plagued the district during contract negotiations. In fact they were concluded in record time with 99 percent and above approval by union members, which is unheard of. Further, the district embarked on an ambitious parent engagement campaign that netted the State’s first annual LCAP Parent Engagement Exemplar Award in 2016. Still further, the district has hired and retained a number of highly qualified staff, some of whom have distinguished themselves and received recognition awards recently.

The significance of this is that all the above were accomplished notwithstanding the alleged failure of the superintendent to work with the board. Just imagine what the district could have accomplished if the superintendent and board worked hand-in-hand during this time. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. School districts, like all large organizations, are subject to conflict. It is unrealistic to expect the board/superintendent relationship to be above conflict when you bring together individuals who are ardently passionate about the organization’s mission as well they should be. By definition, the board of trustees sets policy and provides oversight of the organizational operations. As a practical matter, it shares the leadership with the superintendent who is on the ground implementing its policies. Often, those involved are too close to the situation to recognize root causes of the problem.

If it’s a matter of personality conflicts, management style clashes and faulty communication skills, how about bringing in an executive coach and/or conflict manager to work with the superintendent? To get the board and superintendent beyond the current impasse, why not bring an outside mediator to assist in negotiating a “win-win” resolution that accommodates competing, common and complimentary needs, expectations and interests of the parties?

Finally, our elected board of trustees plays a crucial role in our democratic system of governance. Indeed, their volunteerism represents the finest example of active citizenship that should be required of us all. These public servants dedicate their time without compensation, skill, knowledge and commitment to ensure academic success of our children, sound fiscal practices, compliance with state and federal standards and maintenance of school operations.

If the current trustees choose to go down the path of terminating Mr. Gonzales, it will only accentuate and escalate conflict that blocks the board from doing its best work, i.e., serving our students. Unfortunately, it will keep the district divided into factions once again.

— Baldwin S. Moy, California Rural Legal Assistance, Madera


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