Friday, September 5, 2008

In which CARES drops off signatures, Alexander spins like a top, and I ramble a lot

From the Lebanon Express (it should be noted that the DH got there first):

Chief petitioners for recall attempts against Lebanon School Board members Josh Wineteer and Rick Alexander submitted about 2,100 signatures to the Linn County Clerk's office on Wednesday.

Given that they needed something like 1400 signatures, it seems likely there's going to be an election.

Then, in what's otherwise a pretty straightforward story, we get this bit:

"There's nothing to gain. They've voiced their position loudly. It's a single-minded agenda to attack and blame the administration," [CARES President Tre'] Kennedy said. "Because it is the only thing they care about, nothing is getting done; we're not talking about education."

Alexander said the recall will be a referendum on education in Lebanon.

You have to give some credit to Alexander: Like the Republican party these last few elections, Alexander is trying to make a recall effort directed squarely at him about something else, anything else. He'd much rather the recall being a referendum on Robinson instead of his own actions.

We can argue until the end of time about whether or not Superintendent Jim Robinson is doing a good job. However, the recall is not about Robinson. CARES has been very, very consistent in saying that; I've looked at their website, and it's pretty focused on Alexander and Wineteer's actions.

Furthermore, rumor has it that CARES doesn't necessarily support Robinson at all, or at least there are split opinions about him.

So, following Alexander's train of thought down the rabbit hole a bit: How does the community provide feedback to the Superintendent? (In other words, what if this is ultimately a referendum on Robinson via two board members?) At least three ways: Electing school board members, through the audience comment section at school board meetings and through direct communication with Robinson and other DO staff. The school board, in turn, can evaluate the superintendent and provide direction and feedback (up to and including contract non-renewal or firing for cause).

But wait!, you might say. We elected Alexander because he wants to go after Robinson. It's the will of the voters! It's working!

To an extent, that's true - but process matters. The problem is that Alexander especially doesn't seem to care about protecting the district from legal liability or doing things in a transparent, democratic, deliberative fashion. In fact, as others have argued, I would suggest that Alexander and Wineteer's actions have actually made it harder to remove Robinson as Superintendent of the LCSD. The two have poisoned the well: Anything they do at this point that's a move against Robinson is going to generate questions about their motives and methods. (See the end of this story for one example of this.)

In other words, the actions of Alexander and Wineteer have removed them as viable agents for legitimately removing Robinson. When that argument was first put forward, I didn't like it and didn't agree with it. However, I now think it's correct, and that it leads to a really counterintuitive conclusion:

Getting rid of Alexander and Wineteer is the first step in removing Superintendent Jim Robinson.*

How strange is that?

*I should note that in many ways, I'm agnostic on the question of whether or not Robinson should stay. He has certainly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but he's also the only person at the district level (because individual teachers are certainly trying) who I see as trying to implement a curriculum that will prepare students for life in the 21st century. I don't see anyone else even talking about it - certainly the board has shown themselves both unqualified and disinterested in such a conversation, instead spending a lot of time reacting. The district may be struggling in certain ways, but at least Robinson's trying to face the future** head-on.

**This reminds me that I need to do a post about how this whole thing with the Superintendent and school board is really intertwined with Lebanon losing its identity as as logging town and struggling (like so many other places) to adapt to globalization/the 21st century/etc. Someone should write a book on this, actually. Mom, are you reading this?


Anonymous said...

I disagree that getting rid of Woneteer and Alexander is the first step of getting rid of Robinson. His contract is very difficult to get out of. It must be for cause or voting non-renew. I think as he has sued the board twice for trying to get rid of him as non-renew, he will fight big time. So getting a new board will not work, as soon as they move to non renew, he sues. He has lost respect district wide, and his proposals for pulling Lebanon forward in curriculum is lost in the math levels and drop out rates. The academy system was supposed to do all that, and no improvement. Just angered more people. If his major decisions are a bust, how do you move forward? You can't fire for cause so you have to go non renew. Then he immediately sues as the board is "interfering with his contract and his ability to lead". Mr. Robinson has lost any ability to lead the district. Seperating ways will probably not be pretty, but will be required.

Anonymous said...

VERY well said! I second the anon at 7:19 am.

Dennis said...

It's spelled "Wineteer." =)

I could be missing something, but I don't remember Robinson suing the district twice for a non-renewal vote.

I remember him filing a lawsuit against Wineteer and Alexander for violating his contract by bypassing him and giving orders directly to other district employees, and I remember him filing a notice that reserved his right to sue over his evaluation. Neither mentioned contract renewal.

What am I forgetting?


You know, having to be fired for cause or non-renewed for cause is not a bad thing to have in a contract. I would certainly want that level of protection. Yes, it means he can't be canned on a whim, but there are clearly channels to remove him from his job - a low eval and a non-renewal, as the board finally discovered this last time around. The problem is that multiple board members have no credibility to evaluate him (when it makes it into the paper that your stated goal is to get rid of someone, you generally aren't considered a reliable evaluator of their performance), and there's evidence they did not actually evaluate him, but simply gave him low marks to justify their vote for non-renewal.

Personally, I'd hesitate to make baseless assumptions about how Robinson will act with different board members, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

"wrongfully interfered with Mr. Robinson’s contract" is the language from the Democrat Herald. That "justified" the non renew, so your right, I may be stretching it a bit. However, the argument is the same. Say I have an employer who wants me to do a particular project. I bomb the project. First time, probably no big deal. Now, after messing up or under performing multiple big projects, with the right to fire only for cause, or non-renew, I am guessing I get non-renewed. But if I had a contract like Mr. Robinson's, I would still be around for 3 more years, and require 2 more non-renews in that time frame. In the mean time, I am still around, hanging out, eating the cookies in the fridge, leaving the seat up on the toilet, etc. Now, I get a new boss who wants to go in a different direction. Nope, don't want to, so I don't. Still do it the same old way (math scores, drop out rates, etc) Nope, still can't get rid of me. I have a couple years to hang around. Now, I read a few articles and suddenly become motivated. I want to improve math. Now, I understand I have FAILED at that project multiple times, but I am sure this time I can get it right. How many employers would give me the chance? I am a day late and several dollars short. Eventually, my boss will PAY for me to go. The boss buys me off, I go, and two teachers or coaches get fired to pay for it. Who wins? Not the kids.

I should MAN up and quit.

Anonymous said...

"I should MAN up and quit."

Great phrase: Instead of lawyering up, he should man up and quit!! Indeed!

Anonymous said...

There has been an effort to change the math scores in Lebanon as a direct result of the actions of Mr. Robinson. As of yet they have not changed the results in the high school but there are many positive results in the lower grades. There are changes at LHS also but it will take other changes to get the desired results. I recommend that anyone who wants to know what has been implemented already at the high school attend the meeting on Wednesday September 9th at 6 pm in the LHS auditorium. There is going to be a discussion and you can come and get your questions answered.

To blame Robinson is somewhat appropriate as the scores have not changed in his tenure. They are what they were before he arrived. No improvement, statistically at least. They actually increased by about 2% on average after the academies were implemented. But that is not a statistically significant change. But I think our community has some blame in the situation. There is a subset that does not value education and that does not help. But Mr. Robinson is the leader and he has not lead in this area enough to make a good and lasting change.

Anonymous said...

It's OK for the Board to misbehave, to go outside the law, to ignore Board policy, to have personal agendas, to have pets they throw all their votes at, to do everything they can to make doing the job of Superintendent as hard as possible and yet Mr. Robinson is still expected to be perfect.
The people who should "man-up" are those Board members.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous trying to blame Mr. Robinson for everything and give a pass for Rick and Josh should "man up" and see realty of the real issues. It is a real case of 2 blind men leading the blinds on hike by the clifts.

Dennis said...

I am so confused by all this talk about being a man and doing the right thing.

Could someone please explain it to me, being sure to mention George W. Bush and how he relates?

... in case the sarcasm was not clear, I think asking someone to man up and quit is about the dumbest thing around. Can we please leave the silly gender stereotypes out of the comments? Please?

After all, manning up is a few shorts steps away from settling it in the parking lot, and I thought we'd done such a great job of avoiding that so far....

no small minds said...

I want to relate back to your comments, Dennis, about the community struggling with transforming. I think that the heart of the problem with math scores is that students at the high school don't care about college. They've had parents, too, with the mindset that a blue collar job was just fine for them and it's good enough for "my kid." But the reality is that blue collar jobs are not as easy to find today - many local industries have downsized or gone away. The District wants kids to have every opportunity available to them and thinks that preparing them for college at the high school level is the best way to give them options. Then it's up to them (the kids)and what they want out of life. But there shouldn't be a question about pressing them to prepare and having the highest expectations. Why do so many parents want less? I don't get that. The result is the kids don't care about learning things (like algebra) that "they'll never use." This community needs to quit looking backward and begin to look ahead.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, settling it in the parking lot may actually be a good idea. Maybe we could come to a conclusion. As angry as the math crowd was the other night, how do we solve it? The board members are elected and can be recalled, or have an actual end to their service. How do you do that with the superintendent? It would be nice to have a vote on the superintendent, but we can't. I don't know why the papers won't do a poll,though. The argument from anonymous (sept 5, 2008 7:05 PM)above is valid, though. How do you separate from an employee that the employer (the board) doesn't think should continue working? If the contract doesn't allow any leeway, and allows only fire with cause or non renew, seems to me you are stuck with the non renew. I just think the period of three years is to long to wait to separate from the employee. Now, one could argue if this employee should go or not, and rightfully so, but it still is decided upon by the employer. I agree it should be done lawfully, but the contract seems to be vague in the cause area. What is cause? I don't think they have any info on illegal or tawdry behavior on the part of the superintendent, or we would have heard it by now. But the math scores, drop out rates, turn over, etc. Is that enough to fire for cause? I for one do not feel the superintendent intentionally did anything wrong, but does he have enough "political capital" to lead? If we are at an impasse, something has to give. If he is opposed 3-2 (4-1?, 5-0?) on the board, he will probably have to be the one to give. I, along with countless others, am tired of all the time wasted talking about this and PIE. We need somehow to move on. How?

Dennis said...

no small minds, I think your explanation is part of the picture, but only part. There's more going on here.

Anon @ 10:06 AM, I've never seen the Lebanon Express do a poll. Or the DH, for that matter - smaller papers generally don't have the resources to conduct proper polls. Not that I think it's a bad idea, however.

One thing that's always sort of amused me about the LCSD, and the US in general, is the existence of a school board at all. As far as I know, the US is pretty much alone among industrialized nations in ceding this level of control over education to the local level, to elected officials who are generally not education professionals. It seems like most other places have a more centralized, standardized method of administration and curriculum development.

I'm not taking a stance on this, at least not in this comment, merely noting that I think it's something of an aberration, with roots in American individualism (think the American West circa the 19th century, I suspect).

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I'd hesitate to make baseless assumptions about how Robinson will act with different board members, but that's just me."

Baseless? You're kidding, right Dennis? Remember how he was when he had a board that completely backed him, no questions asked? He was a nightmare to deal with. You have personally noted how he has improved on issues such as communication, attitude, etc. He has been forced to make these adjustments because he no longer had the board in his back pocket.

Even with the current board, he has never had one of his acedemic proposals denied. NEVER! So tell me Dennis, how can you lay his shortcomings at the feet of the board?

Dennis said...

Anon @ 1:18 PM -

1) You're assuming there are only two kinds of board members: Those who do anything Robinson says and Rick Alexander. I'd like to think there is at least a third option: Those who are critical of Robinson but also manage to follow the law and bother to actually read the reports and other materials provided to them.

2) People change. There are plenty of accounts noting that Robinson has changed since his father's death, and also since his suspension. This suggests that, at the least, we can't assume Robinson will act the same as he did in the years before this whole mess. He might, we have to allow for the possibility he's changed.

3) The account you give of the board and its relationship to Robinson is, at the least, up for debate. I've talked to several former board members, and they don't agree with that characterization at all.

I'm not laying Robinson's shortcomings at the foot of the board. I'm saying it would be foolish to assume we know how he will act with a board that doesn't contain members who have publicly stated their goal is to get rid of him.

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