Opinion

Lessons learned from Federal Way superintendent's resignation | Editorial

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) with the resignation of Superintendent Rob Neu, the conviction on seven counts of felony theft and subsequent resignation of board member Tony Moore, the allegations of two concurrent sexual affairs of board member Danny Peterson in the divorce decree his wife filed and the district’s payment of $219,000 to former principal Lisa Greibel to avoid litigation.

Lost in all of this is that the district is also dealing with 68 percent of its schools that are failing the No Child Left Behind as a result of not meeting the Adequate Yearly Progress metric.

These are clearly not fun times to be in the public information office for FWPS.

All of these are worth an editorial in their own right, but one particular part of this that stands out is the resignation of Neu. His tenure in Federal Way has been rocky at best. There are lessons to be learned from this as the Federal Way community moves forward and as Oklahoma City (OKC) begins its transition into the Neu administration.

Keep an eye on the money. Be very careful when Neu starts asking for and taking a $42,000 raise for himself, spending $100,000 on board-sponsored trips to Europe and the Far East and giving his top paid administrator a 2 percent raise and then raising all of the other 16 administrators, including the wife of then-board president Tony Moore, to this new level to the tune of $111,180.

The Mirror filed a public records request  with FWPS concerning board member Tony and Trise Moore’s payments and was shocked to learn that Trise Moore alone received $29,138 of the allotted amount. All told, including the raises for Neu, Trise Moore and the 16 administrators in Neu’s cabinet, there was a minimum of $106,715 given out during the 2013-2014 school year. These raises were administered and approved by Neu.

As we begin our search for a new superintendent, we need to ask the question as to what they see as a starting point for their administration and how they would handle a situation like this should it ever occur again. Knowing Neu’s penchant to spend for salaries, OKC should require board oversight for all of these expenditures along with an independent review board.

Watch out for promises. During an editorial board meeting with Neu, he stated that he would have a 100 percent graduation rate in two years because he could not, in good conscience, accept anything less. While this is an admirable goal, it is highly unattainable.

Both school boards should be very skeptical of such promises. Our board should not hire a candidate for superintendent who states unrealistic goals. It is disingenuous and leads to confusion and disappointment, and ultimately low morale among those working for constructive improvement in our district.

If Neu makes this same goal in OKC, they should consider themselves on notice that Neu plans to move on again before any chickens come home to roost.

Expect the unexpected. Any superintendent with a ready-fire-aim approach should be fired before shooting the district in their own collective foot. A public entity entrusted with the task of educating our future leaders has to give serious thought before making monumental system-wide changes.

The complexity of change needs to be honored, with all players at the table. Even a private company of this size would expect and demand accountability and responsible process from its CEO. The superintendent is essentially the CEO and should be well versed in how to institute changes in a fiscally prudent and publicly endorsed method.

Whether dealing with district-wide grading system changes or future mission changes with the Global Learning Initiative, the administration should have engaged in public dialogue before force-feeding the community its meal. The Federal Way school board’s goal should be to ask candidates how they would determine new directions and implement change.

Any candidate fumbling this question is likely to perpetuate our problems rather than solve them. For OKC, all we can say is good luck, watch for this, and if you raise a big enough fuss, it will get reversed.

The Mirror strongly recommends that our current school board, after they are back to full strength, identify candidates for this position and interview them as if they were the teacher in the classroom of their own children. Would they be compassionate and caring, take care of their staff before taking care of themselves, involve  students and community in decisions, and administer the budget in ways that directly affect students? These are some of the necessary qualities of an effective leader.

The superintendent of the FWPS is a prestigious position. Applications are no doubt arriving from a wide range of exceptionally qualified candidates. The board has a critical task of determining the top three and bringing them in for an open interview session that the public can attend.

We owe it to our students to ask critical questions of these future leaders.

 

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