Monday, September 15, 2008

LCSD Meeting Roundup and Analysis

UPDATE 9/16/08 8:35 AM: Check out this comment from Allen:

Or maybe they have been trying to bargain with him and not getting very far. They may have the votes to oust him, as they only need three, but are trying to keep it smooth. They could be trying to put pressure on him by putting it out into the public arena. Robinson doesn't feel the public wants him gone, and the board may be trying to get the public to push for robinson to go.

I received an email that guessed the same thing: That there has been an attempt to buy him out or get him to leave, and it's failed thus far, and that the resolution is essentially the first step in making the effort public by putting public pressure on Robinson. Personally, I doubt it will move him an inch. The other big difference is that the emailer is guessing the board does not have the votes to terminate him directly, at least not yet.


Note: Please, please please comment! I want to know what people are thinking about this, and would love to see an outpouring in the comments to this post. There's certainly a ton to talk about. (One request, though: If you do comment, please pick an alias that's not 'anonymous', just so everyone else can tell everyone apart and when the same person is commenting multiple times. Thanks.)

This post may be worse than usual pretty terrible; I've definitely been off my blogging game lately. Consider yourself warned.

So, as one commenter asked on the liveblog post, what in the world happened at the LCSD board's special session on Monday evening? What does the resolution mean?

First, the basic order of events:

1. The board met in special session at 6 PM to talk about the Superintendent. There were rumors abound, but all I could have said for sure is that it was about the superintendent. My guess is that it was in reaction to the math meeting. The most common rumor I heard suggested the board wanted to oust the Superintendent.

2. As noted in the liveblog, the special session went on for about 75 minutes. At 7 PM, Steve Kelley emerged and told the assembled audience (I'd guess 90% of the seats were filled) that it would be 15-20 more minutes.

3. At about 7:15, the board emerged and began the public part of the meeting; on the agenda was a single action item, dealing with the Superintendent. Russ McUne made a motion to approve a resolution, which he read. Debi Shimmin seconded. There was no discussion, and the vote was 5-0 (Fisher voted for it; I confirmed this.) The audience clapped when the resolution was read and when it passed; otherwise, it was pin-drop silent in the room throughout the whole process (the silence after Wineteer asked for discussion was incredible). It was like everyone (including me) was holding their breath.

4. The board had an audience comments section following the vote. There was one comment, a statement by someone named Dave Champion (I am assuming he is a parent; please correct me if I'm wrong). Many parents had all signed up to speak and were prepared to cede their time to him if necessary. The statement was in regards to LHS, math, and the expectations of parents for the 9/24 meeting; I assume it was written by parents. I don't have a copy of it, but I got a lot of in the liveblog post.

5. With no more audience comments, Wineteer closed the meeting at 7:23 PM.

The Resolution

First, the full text of the resolution:

WHEREAS, the relationship between the Superintendent and the Lebanon Community School District Board of Directors has broken down, resulting in poor communication and failure to work cooperatively on District goals; and

WHEREAS, the Lebanon Community School District Board of Directors is greatly concerned that the breakdown in its relationship with the Superintendent has caused the focus away from day-to-day business of the District as well as student achievement; and

WHEREAS, the Lebanon Community School District Board of Directors believes that the current working relationship is irreparable; and

WHEREAS, the Lebanon Community School District Board of Directors is concerned about the further harm to both the morale of the District staff as well as the well-being of the community; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the Lebanon Community School District Board of Directors that it is in the best interest of the School District and the Lebanon community that Superintendent Robinson and the Board of Directors enter into negotiations toward mutually acceptable terms for an immediate resignation of Superintendent. [All funny grammar in the original.]

But (you're probably screaming by now) WHAT THE $%(& DOES IT MEAN?!?!?

I don't actually know. But I have a guess.

Let's go back, for a second, to the fact that there were all sorts of rumors flying about what was on the executive session agenda: the big one is that it was about the ousting of Robinson. I've heard this rumor three or four times since June, and it's never panned out - things were actually pretty calm on the School Board front over the summer. This time, however, I believed the rumor. The special session, the math meeting, the recall election - all point in the direction of an angry school board with a mind to act. So personally, I think the action item on the agenda was, in some form, the removal of Robinson.

And I think it failed. I think the resolution was what resulted.

Look at it this way: A resolution like that is not Alexander's style, and I could barely believe Wineteer would go for it. It is Shimmin's style, and frankly, probably McUne's as well. It also contains several grammar errors or strange phrasings, which suggests it was written in the meeting itself, not beforehand (though I obviously can't rule out the latter).

My guess: Alexander and Wineteer wanted Robinson gone, right then and there. Shimmin was on the fence. McUne might have been on the fence as well. Fisher was almost certainly opposed to ousting him at the meeting. I place both Robinson's attorney and the district counsel in the executive session (UPDATE: I have been told Robinson was not in the executive session; I assume that means his attorney was not either). Combine that with McUne or Wineteer (I can't remember which) noting that the discussion the board had in private was with the advice of counsel, and I suspect McUne and/or Shimmin (though probably the latter) was persuaded against an immediate termination on some sort of legal grounds, though I'm not sure what they would have been.

So some combination of board members, Dakopolos and Robinson convince the rest of the board that an immediate termination would be worse (and here I drop a rumor: far worse) than the alternative, which turned out to be that resolution.

So that's my guess about the executive session. What about the resolution itself? What does it mean?

Again, this is conjecture - I could be wrong, and I don't have special access to information, so please take my words in light of my reasoning and the evidence I present.

I think it means the board decided on it with little to no input from Robinson. The big question even I have is whether or not it forces/obligates Robinson to enter into negotiations (the rumor is that it does not, but I do not know for sure). If it does, he may yet disappear by the end of 2008. If it doesn't - well, he might still disappear by the end of the year, but his position for negotiating the terms of his disappearance are much, much stronger.

My gut reaction? That the board members who wanted Robinson gone failed this time, and that even if it obligates him to negotiate, it says nothing about how hard-nosed he can be when negotiating the terms of his resignation. And if there's one thing I think Robinson can do, it's be hard-nosed (at least I'd be shocked if he was anything but). Remember, as little credibility as he has with a certain portion of the community, he's done a darn effective job of staying out of the media/public eye recently, and you can be sure the negotiations will take place behind closed doors (if they did not, I'd be floored). And that Alexander has not suggested that he's willing to spend much money to see Robinson gone (or, at the least, that a big buy-out would hurt the district, run contrary to what Alexander says about money, and anger some parents and community members). My guess is that Robinson could just ask for a giant buyout and put the board in a really hard position - and remember, even if it makes Robinson look bad, he'd be gone, and could probably retire. To be perfectly blunt, what would he care if there are people in Lebanon who dislike him? He'd be retired.

What happens next?

Well, either the negotiations will result in Robinson leaving willingly, or not. (As banal as that statement sounds, it's still consequential.) Oh, if they result in his leaving, that part of the saga is over (and everyone moves on to the part where the board tries to hire a new superintendent, which will be hi-larious). On the other hand, if the negotiations fail to result in Robinson's leaving, I can see two reasons (though I'm sure I'm overlooking more than one) for that:

1) Robinson fights it, possibly through negotiations or through legal action. What happens here is anyone's guess. (Though my personal guess is that it will be bloody and my cynical *** will laugh and cry. A lot.)

2) Something else happens - like the recall - that derails the whole 'Robinson-is-leaving' process, and then the LCSD is back to having Robinson as a superintendent who has had his contract non-renewed at least once. Not really sure what happens then, either, though it's a safe bet that some parents will continue to be pissed.

3) Something else. What - I'm not omniscient, and I don't have any more information than anyone else. Your guess really is as good (or better) than mine; I just take the time to post mine online.

In Which I Muse Aloud on What Could Have Been, or Still Be

This is essentially a giant aside. Skip it if you want to stick to the meeting. Keep reading if you want to know what I think Alexander should do if he wants to get rid of Robinson.

One thing that's always bugged me about the last few years of the LCSD Board of Directors' actions is that for all Alexander and Wineteer's talk, they really, really are just terrible at getting rid of Robinson. So, here's what I would do were I in their position and wanted to see Robinson gone.

I would do something like what happened tonight with the resolution, except I'd change the last paragraph from seeking his resignation to setting out conditions for his continued employment.

Then I'd make those conditions some combination of EXACTLY the processes, procedures and programs I wanted Robinson to follow and impossibly high goals. I'd find a way to make it stick (maybe it would have to be done in conjuction with a terrible evaluation and something like a plan of assistance). Then I'd wait for Robinson to either do exactly what the board demanded (in which case the board wins, assuming it really is about the students and not Alexander hating on Robinson), or for Robinson to fail to meet the impossibly high standards (which would give the board, I assume, a legal fig leaf to hide behind when firing him), or Robinson to give up and leave of his own accord.

In two of the three scenarios, Robinson is gone. In the other, the board gets EXACTLY what it wants. Again assuming this is ultimately about education (which is, to me, an increasingly bad assumption), the board wins.

Frankly, I think nothing like this has happened because a) Alexander really has no idea what the hell is going on in regards to education; b) Alexander is not patient enough to pursue this kind of strategy; possibly also c) Alexander cares more about getting rid of Robinson than education, for whatever reason.

In any case, as much as Robinson has angered certain portions of the community, I'm going to keep hammering on the same points until things change: At least the guy's got some idea of the need to face the 21st century when it comes to education. The board, thus far, does not appear to. As well, process matters. If something like removing Robinson is going to stick, it has to be done in a way that doesn't result in - as one commenter alluded to - an atomic bomb being dropped on the district. Again, so far Alexander and Wineteer seem to unable to figure out how to do this within the constraints handed to them.

So that's the aside. Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.


Well, the recall election and effort is going forward; this much I know.

The effort to oust Robinson (because I do think that's what it was) tonight failed.

There is one more regular board meeting between now and the date of the recall election, scheduled for - do you believe it! - October 6th, the day before the polls close and ballots are counted. Last chances and all that.

There is another math meeting scheduled for September 24th (contact the LCSD for details; I don't have them), which might be explosive, given that all accounts have Finch as not being very responsive to anyone, and that parents collectively demanded answers from him at tonight's board meeting.

The board could always call a special session.

There may or may not be negotiations between the LCSD Board of Directors and Superintendent Robinson over his resignation.

A certain math teacher may or may not still be regretting noting he doesn't grade homework (for what it's worth, I had him as a teacher, and he's phenomenally good and dedicated to his job; it would be folly to do anything but listen to what he has to say).

Word is coming around (expect more on this in the next few days) about some very, very interesting data on the math scores in Lebanon when compared to Sand Ridge, Corvallis, Sweet Home, and the state as a whole.

Oh, and one more thing: If nothing else, I am becoming more and more convinced that LHS Principal Mark Finch needs to start appearing (or actually being) more responsive to parents and the community. It costs him nothing and may save him from a crowd armed with torches and pitchforks - and that's meant literally - even as I note, as I did at LT's blog, that I think mid-September is far too early to call for his head.

Soon: More on the math situation, including, I hope, something like actual data.

Also coming soon: the text of Wineteer and Alexander's statements about the recall. (Remember, they were to resign or submit 200 words justifying their continued presence on the board as a result of there being enough signature gathered.)

My hands are tired, and so am I. That's all you get for now.


Anonymous said...

I think the Board was not able to outright fire Robinson for just cause and so they settled for a "formal statement" that they want him gone because of bad blood between them.
In my opinion it made the Board look bad. They can't 'get rid of him' the right way so they want to put pressure on him to go just because they can't work with him. Which really means they don't WANT to work with him no matter how much he tries to make it work.
It is like they went before a judge and said, "we've tired marriage couseling--which I knew wouldn't work but we were forced to--and just like I felt all along it just isn't working because my spouse is not what I want so I want a divorce even though my spouse doesn't".

There are some very vocal people in our community, armed with torches and pitchforks as you noted, who will be very happy that the Board took this action.
It is not a rumor any longer.
All the things we have been saying is true. The Board majority just want him gone.
At least they didn't resort to illegal behavior this time.

Allen said...

Or maybe they have been trying to bargain with him and not getting very far. They may have the votes to oust him, as they only need three, but are trying to keep it smooth. They could be trying to put pressure on him by putting it out into the public arena. Robinson doesn't feel the public wants him gone, and the board may be trying to get the public to push for robinson to go.

Anonymous said...

Robinson knows people want him gone...he just wants a shitload of money to go.

Dennis said...

Anon @ 8:53 AM - While it's easy to agree with the first part of your statement (though "people" is wonderfully vague; there are also "people" who want him to stay), I have seen no evidence for the second. Do you have anything that supports the claim that what he's after is money?

Trencher said...

It seems that Rick A. and Josh W. are doing absolutely everything they can to push this agenda before the recall vote.
They know that vote will clearly state the will of the people. They don't want to wait for that. They want to incite as many of those torch and pitchfork people as they can prior to the vote.
If they really were confident in their stance, in what the people of this town want, they would not be resorting to such tactics.

I think Debi S. wants the drama to stop. She is tired of the fight.
I think Russ McUne believes there won't be a reconciliation with Jim R. on the part of Rick or Josh. Also, being from the same church, Russ is inclined to give Josh the benefit of the doubt.
I think Chris F. agreed to the vote so that it will be clear to the public and not be only in executive session or a "rumor".
Rick and Josh have both stated before that they want Jim to go and some of their supporters have in fact said that is the reason why they wanted to be on the Board in the first place. Rick particularly wants to do this because he said he would "get Jim" and he wants to fulfill that threat before the recall.

There have been insinuations that Jim R. only wants money.
In reality it is Rick A. and Josh W. who are free and easy with our money--with the money for the students. They are willing to spend anything to get what they want.
If those two are recalled Jim would be working with essentially a new Board, and the "we can't work with him" mentality would not be the primary motivation.
It is reasonable, more than reasonable in fact, for Jim R. to wait for the vote on October 7th.

Anonymous said...

Rick and Josh were pushing to oust Mr. Robinson before the Oct 7 the day of the recall. There were trying last night to stir the pot by rallying their side by firing Robinson on the spot. They tried but I think Fisher stood his ground, McUne maybe agreed with Mr. Fisher about doing things in a legal way to minimize the School Board getting sue. With that Debi was the swing vote to determine the outcome. Debi wants no more in fighting on the board so she sided with Fisher and McUne, Rick and Josh realize that they were going to lose the battle they settle for less to satisfy their people that showed up for the pony show. Unfortunately, the show never started. Didn't Rick and Josh read the resolution before they agree to it? I guess they never did becuase it looked like Fisher or McUne blindsided them with their own play.

Dennis said...

I am sure that Alexander and Wineteer read and understood the resolution before they voted on it. If nothing else, McUne read it out loud during the public part of the meeting.

I don't think they were blindsided at all. Anon @ 2:26 PM, you sound way off base on this one.

Anonymous said...

Dennis just adding fuel to the fire... A humble observation from an outsider anonymous at 2:26pm.

The resolution is very vague in language. I do not think Rick had a chance to really absorb the document since it was done in a rush..

Dennis said...

If Mr. Alexander was not comfortable with the resolution, why did he vote for it? Why did he not ask questions? At this juncture, there's really no good explanation for that - I've never seen Alexander bullied in public, or afraid to call for more discussion or more time on an issue if he needs it. Heck, that applies to the whole board - they had clearly agreed beforehand to present and approve the resolution.

Anonymous said...

The resoulution has absoulutely no teeth. It's a neat bit of grandstanding on the part of the board, but there is nothing there to force Robinson to resign.

Seems like now that they've asked him to resign, firing him would cause them all kinds of legal trouble. They didn't get want they wanted so fire him with nothing to back it up.

Hello lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, take my words, Rick did not read the resolution clearly he was rushed, it was a last minute hail mary play by either Mr. Fisher or McUne when time was runnning out. They were seeking a unified voice and it was the only way I can see Mr. Fisher voting for such a resolution. It just basically asking the superintendent to negotiate but not demanding him to do so. I know Mr. Fisher will not put the school board in harms way for any kind of lawsuit by the superintendent for violating his due process. Mr. McUne will also make sure he is looking out for the best interest of the district.

Dennis said...

OK - let's assume Alexander was rushed. That does make a certain amount of sense; a non-binding resolution is certainly not his style.

But it still doesn't explain why he voted for it.

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