Saturday, March 8, 2008

[LCSD] What could the board done to justify a vote of nonrenewal?

Let's proceed from the following premises:

1. Rick, Josh and Debi want Jim Robinson gone. Others might disagree with their reasoning or their methods (or both), but I think it's fair to say no one can tell them what to think.

2. They need to follow established, accepted procedures. (Whether or not this happened is arguable. I don't particularly think they did, but that's largely irrelevant.)

Given the above, how can/could the three of them accomplish that?

For the sake of argument, I'm just going with the existing evaluation process as the 'how'.

Let's take as a given that a negative evaluation leads directly to a contract nonrenewal (we'll call this the best case for nonrenewal, since a more just process would likely involve at least two negative evals - one to establish that something is wrong and one to show a lack of improvement).

So what kind of evaluation could Robinson have received that would lead most directly to a nonrenewal?

I'm going to list the reasons I can remember hearing from the trio and their supporters:

--Academies - specifically, installing them without enough input from teachers.

--Bo Yates - not keeping him on as AD for LHS.

--'Poor community relations' - see many anecdotes of parents being treated poorly by Robinson (how true these are I have no idea)

Side note: I'm going to conveniently discount the fact that since Rick, at least, is known to talk trash about Robinson constantly, I have to question why folks in the community have a low opinion of him in the first place. It's a classic political tactic: smear someone, then ask why their approval rating is so low.

--Teacher transfers - though again, if this is going on an evaluation, I'd want to see specific transfers listed.

--The mysterious 'lightning rod' effect (again, I am skeptical; see the side note above)

-- custodian contract dispute

--The asbestos thing at LHS

Hm. (I'm sure I neglected to list plenty of stuff; feel free to flame me/add to the list in comments.)

Many of these things stretch back past the previous year. Of those that don't, they are not generally things that can be changed.

Given that proposing metrics for improvement is one part of an evaluation, what kind of metrics could the board have drawn up? I'll be charitable and suggest that the board could have drawn up incredibly difficult metrics to meet, and even that would have been more justified than what happened.

Hey - couldn't the board have given a very similar evaluation a year ago (or, at least, couldn't Rick and Josh have done so)?

And if they had, couldn't they be pointing to Robinson's failure to meet the established criteria as justification for nonrenewal now?

Sure they could have. But Rick and Josh sat out the evaluation process, which, in retrospect, should have been an indicator they weren't going to take it seriously this year, either.

So, say the board had developed very intense and difficult-to-meet metrics for improvement and/or goals for the coming year for Robinson. Say he failed to meet them by the next evaluation.

Then the board could vote to nonrenew and point to the documented process. Yes, the metrics might have been suspect (or maybe not - who knows?), but the whole process would have been defensible.

But noooooooo.... no, instead we are left with a precedent that allows any Superintendent to be nonrenewed for any reason (assuming the precedent stands).

Think about it: Robinson's contract was nonrenewed on the basis of decisions he made in good faith (years ago, in some cases) that the current board disagrees with. If that's the standard for nonrenewal, then the job security of the LCSD superintendent just went in the toilet.

As this commenter over at LT says, evaluations are designed to help an employee improve.

For the umpteenth time: What makes anyone think a single decent candidate is going to apply for Robinson's job, given how he is being shown the door? Will an anti-Robinson reader please address this question? I've yet to see or hear any evidence for the claim that good candidates will apply once Robinson is gone.

This whole process reveals - again - that it's barely, if at all, about policy or students for certain board members. If that was the case, they could have required Robinson to do what they wanted in terms of the issues in an insanely comprehensive way, and booted him if he failed (and if he succeeded, so what? They would have had their way on the issues, which should take precedence over any one person). Instead, by not using the evaluation as a way to create a guide to improving the district (or having a plan and then using the evaluation to measure Robinson's success at carrying out that plan), Rick, Josh and Debi showed that running Robinson out of town is more important to them than anything else, including overseeing a school district.

I started this post intending to be charitable towards the terrible trio. I end it having convinced myself - not for the first time - that at least two of the tree have no business being on a school board.

Interestingly, I am also convinced that all the infighting has really prevented the district from developing a unified, comprehensive plan that addresses both current shortcomings and future needs. This is not a good thing.

[LCSD] The Perfect Superintendent

A commenter asks this question:

What SPECIFICALLY would your IDEAL Superintendent be like?


Thursday, March 6, 2008

[LCSD] Someone Submits!

From a reader, passed on without comment:

The precedent of questionable action was set long before this board or this action. Past boards seemed to rubber stamp Mr. Robinson's illegal actions of contracting out custodians, used every possible procedural action to keep from considering an overwhelming and informative 'vote of no confidence', ignored OSHA violations etc., and generally made what many considered to be poor decisions regarding district finances (hiring at central office while laying off teachers ), giving raises to Super. and Asst. Super. while approving pay freezes for other employees, and disrespectful negotiating proposals for employee contracts.

If you were to simply look at Robinson's scores on 'Communications & Community Relations' where he earned a .8 out of a possible 4 - mathematically the board must have rated some version of: 2 members gave him 2's, 3 gave him zeros..; 1-3, 1-1, 3-0's; 4-1's, 1-0... anyway you parse it- a low score. And, based on close observation of a number of Superintendents over many years, this seems a inflated score. In spite of LT's claims that JR is out and about in the community a lot, my experience would not confirm this. In fact, his public presence is, at best, minimal. Especially considering that Lebanon is a small school district with one high school (basically...:) In many ways he has hidden, and not taken an active public leadership role in the media, and on the ground. Perhaps this is because he senses that many people (students included) are not drawn to him, or trusting of him...

Anyhow, if you really believe that the 'process' has been so bad (and I would NOT characterize it as good from any angle) on this latest effort to change district leadership, perhaps you should really study the 'process' under past boards which many stakeholders perceived as simply Jim Robinson's puppets...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

[LCSD] The Superintendent's Evaluation Process

I want to try and address in a more coherent way how the Superintendent's evaluation process (which was touched on in the and DH and Express stories) looks from the public eye, or at least a public perspective.

My understanding of the normal process is that every year, the board sits down and evaluates the super in five areas, giving him a score of 0-4 in each category. The evaluation covers the previous year.

Then the board sits down with the superintendent and explains (one might say 'justifies' if one is not feeling particularly charitable, and I am not) the evaluation and starts to plan the next year in light of it. The overall results of the evaluation are also made public.

It's also my understanding that this evaluation process is set into the super's contract. (Which is not online – will someone over at the D.O please take care of that? There's no justification for putting both the licensed and classified CBAs up there but not the administrator contracts.)

That's the formal outline of the thing. But it's a shell – it only gains meaning when it's taken seriously. and imbued with relevant content. From where I'm sitting, it sure looks like the Terrible Trio did not take the evaluation process seriously.

If the goal is to improve the district, then an evaluation is useful when it's constructive. It's constructive when it points to specific events and actions and decisions, identifies the fault with them, and proposes solutions. I don't consider canning the Superintendent after a single year's bad review a reasonable solution - would you like that standard applied to you?

As far as I can tell, this is what happened here:

1. Rick has previously announced his intent to see Robinson gone. I suspect it has also long been Josh's intent to see Robinson gone. Shimmin, I think, had not decided by the time she ran for the board. Certainly, however, all three decided before the evaluation process actually occurred what she thought the outcome should be, which makes it much harder to take their evaluation seriously – I no longer trust that they were being honest or fair. It destroys the credibility of the evaluator to telegraph the results before the process even takes place.

2. One or more board members took into account things that happened more than a year ago. I'm not sure how legal this is, but it certainly violates the spirit of the evaluation. I wonder if it's OK for the board to evaluate Robinson multiple times for the same thing? It certainly isn't fair – note that one cannot be tried twice for the same crime under U.S. law, and for good reason.

As a result of the above, the evaluation process almost certainly did not include either a) the requisite level of specificity necessary to justify such low scores or b) meaningful constructive criticism.

Given those two lacks, I wouldn't have any interest in taking this evaluation seriously; the process has long been compromised.

What does that mean?

It means that even if Robinson is a total f*ck-up, the board has nowhere credible left to stand to make that claim.

That's why I harp on process so much; it is foundational to credibility, which cannot and should not flow merely from the position one takes on issues, but on the use of evidence and logic that one uses to get there.

Blah blah blah small town yeah yeah whatever: If we concede that because it's a small town things like logic, reason and evidence shouldn't be expected, then we're in worse shape than I thought. There's a strain of elitism in there that will only poison the discourse.

The bottom line: Even if you like the result and want Robinson gone, it should scare the bejesus out of you that this is how it's going down. It's a bad precedent to set, period.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The world's more complicated than that.

[LCSD] Rick Alexander and the Lebanon Express story

And so it goes:

Board member Rick Alexander immediately made the motion not to extend when the board reached that point in the night's agenda. Before voting, three board members explained the reasoning behind their decision.

The story does not list Rick as one of those board members.

This is pretty typical of the guy - he knows what he's going to do; whether or not the rest of the board does or not is irrelevant - and the same goes for that sector of the public that he does not talk to outside of board meetings.

It's clear he has no interest in being a representative of the people of Lebanon. He has his interests (PIE, anyone?), and people are welcome to line up behind him if they agree, but as far as I can tell, he's not going to be persuaded by anything, even the best interests of the LCSD.

In any case, Rick seems to see no need to justify or explain his decisions even on such consequential votes; in fact, he doesn't seem to see a need for public discussion during board meetings at all as long as he gets what he wants.

Whether or not you agree with the content of his positions, I would hope that would worry you. After all, there's no guarantee that just because he agrees with you on today's issue means that he'll agree with you on tomorrow's.

I have a post regarding the process on display here, but it might have to wait. It's not coalescing like I want it to.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

[Music] Seth Godin talks. You should listen.

Via BB, an excerpt from an admittedly long talk:

So, what’s next? And where do we go from here? I want to start by saying this really clearly. Music is not in trouble. I believe more people are listening to more music now than any time in the history of the world. Probably five times more than twenty years ago...that much! But, the music business is in trouble. And the reason the music business is in trouble is because remember all those pieces of good news?...every single one of them is not true anymore. Every. One. Now, if you want to, you can curse the fact the Solomon’s couldn’t figure out how to keep the tower going. You can curse the fact that it’s really easy to copy a CD. You can curse the fact that we don’t care about the American top 40. You can curse the fact that there isn’t top 40 radio that matters. What good is that going to do? Or, we could think about the fact that you have more momentum and more assets and more talented people than any body else. [And], at the very same time that people are listening to more music than ever before. Thats really cool. And, so when we think about transitions what we know is that timid trapeze artists are dead trapeze artists. And, that the only way you get from here to there is to just do it. Now, you might be wrong but the alternative is you WILL be wrong. There is no way to go from the perfect music business to the new music business with guaranteed ROI and written assurances-it doesn’t exist. So what will happen, I will guarantee this to you, is that 90% of the people in this industry will timidly start walking their way over and they will all fail. Thats why when you go to look up something online, you don’t go to, you go to

It's a wonderfully concise talk. Check it out.

[LT] Jay Jackson redux

LT has a great post on the ongoing saga of Jay Jackson.

Check it out.

[Hasso Hering] Best. Headline. Ever. (Almost)

A recent Hering editorial headline:

Why prisons are full: Crime

Seriously, what the hell? I get that headline space was likely short, but COME ON. I. CAN'T. TAKE. IT. ANYMORE.

Oh, and then there's the actual editorial, which was shockingly decent:

The answer to the swelling prison population is not to relax the sentences but to seek ways of preventing crimes from being committed in the first place.

When I read that, what's left of my tiny little brain melted. It's easily the most sensible thing Hering has ever said, as far as I can tell.

So kudos, Hasso. This editorial - except for the headline - doesn't get mocked. It proposes a decent solution to a problem you illustrate with facts.

UPDATE: I forgot about the very last line. It suggests something I think is flat-out wrong:

Instead we have to make a more fundamental change. We have to get back to a system of values in which it is the height of virtue — which is looked up to and rewarded — not to harm other people and to leave their property alone.

Reverence for property is most certainly not the answer. But it is very consistent with Hering's other writings. Valuing people, on the other hand, would be nice. Maybe we could start by changing US policies as an example?

P.S. This, of course, is the best headline ever.

[Eugene] Remember Margaret B. Jones?

Turns out she was embellishing a little.

I posted on her here.

As bitchphd says:

Of course, in cases like this--where part of the interest in the book is based on its claim to represent a particular point of view--people can feel betrayed when they find out that the pov being represented is fictional (or fictionalized). But. I would be very interested in reading the book anyway, and I hope it doesn't disappear completely. The problem of authors writing fictionalized (or partly fictionalized) memoirs/history is as old as literature itself, and runs the range from pure fabrication to metaphor to generic embellishment to the inevitable fact that narrative shapes experience.

I concur.

[RIAA] Evidence? Who needs evidence?

From a Slashdot summary:

The issue at hand is whether the RIAA's investigator SafeNet now needs to disclose its digital files, validation methodology, testing procedures, failure rates, software manuals, protocols, packet logs, source code, and other materials, so that the validity of its methods can be evaluated by the defense. SafeNet and the RIAA say no, claiming that the information is 'proprietary and confidential'. Ms. Lindor says yes, if you're going to testify in federal court the other side has a right to test your evidence. A list of what is being sought (pdf) is available online. MediaSentry has produced 'none of the above'.

The fact that this is even being debated blows my fucking mind.

A private entity can sue someone in civil court and not reveal their evidence and collection methodology and not get laughed out of the courtroom?

People, we have ceded entirely too much headspace to corporations.

Or, as one /. commenter puts it:

These legal claims by the RIAA just blow my mind. I'm in the physics community, and I'm just trying to picture how these type of statements would play out in my arena.

Me: ...and as a result, we have discovered [blank].
Physicist in audience: Sorry, can you explain your methods?
Me: No

[5 seconds of silence]
Entire conference hall bursts into laughter

I think that's as a good as illustration of the laugh test as I've ever seen.

[LCSD] A Thought on Superintendent Reviews

The DH story revealed something:

Fisher criticized Robinson’s evaluation, saying it shouldn’t be possible to rate Robinson so low when he’d had exemplary evaluations as recently as last year.

He called Robinson “a man of vision” and commended his efforts to raise achievement in Lebanon through programs such as “Beyond LHS,” a college-credit opportunity.

But Wineteer and Shimmin said they felt compelled to act on community anger over some of Robinson’s policies and procedures over his entire tenure, not just in the past year.

1. Robinson's review was supposedly for only the previous year's performance.

2. Wineteer and Shimmin were clear that they were not evaluating Robinson based on only the previous year.

3. Does this create a problem? Is the board required to evaluate only the previous year's performance, or are they allowed to do what appeared to happen here?

4. If yes, then.... is this unfair to the board?

Let's spin out a little thought experiment. For example, say a sitting board approves of a decision made by the superintendent. A big decision.

Then an election happens, and the composition of the board changes significantly. The new members have very different opinions and beliefs about the decision the previous superintendent made - so different, in fact, that their evaluation is far worse than the previous year's.

(Note: This scenario is a little different than what's actually happening, but it's a hypothetical and I'm allowed to do that.)

Should the board then be allowed to incorporate things that happened more than a year ago into the evaluation, since they've never had a chance to weigh in on those issues?

If the answer is no, how does the new board express an opinion on things that happened before they were elected? Board members should have the ability to do that, right?

I'm not particularly thrilled with this little experiment, because I think there are good reasons to officially prohibit a board from retroactively slapping someone's hand (note that such a prohibition does not stop the board from changing a district's direction in the future), and my hypothetical seems to suggest that something like what happened here is legitimate. (To be clear, I think the negative evaluation and vote to nonrenew was sketchy, at best. But still.)

What am I missing?

[LCSD] DH story on Robinson's non-renewal

It's a good one.

More later.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Monday, March 3, 2008

[LCSD] Lebanon School Board Votes 3-2 Against Renewing Superintendent's Contract

UPDATE @ 11:45 PM: I just heard the vote was 3-2 to nonrenew with Shimmin, Alexander and Wineteer voting as a block.

(The offer to post any first-hand accounts, anonymously or otherwise, still stands. Email me or leave a comment that includes a note that you want it posted on the main blog.)

Where we go from here is anyone's guess - though since I don't have a first-hand account of the discussion, I'm hesitant to offer a concrete analysis. Call this one fuzzy...

Possibilities (not mutually exclusive by any means, and not all that carefully considered, either):

1. Robinson sues for breach of contract, or breach of state law, etc (I admit I've not followed the possibilities of a lawsuit that closely). The district spends money on legal fees, which is money not spent on students. I do not buy the argument that this makes Robinson a bad person, especially if he's found to be correct in his (potential) suit. Rather, it would make the three board members who voted to nonrenew look like idiots, since I'm sure the district's legal counsel predicted this.

1a. Robinson wins a lawsuit; what happens? Does he end up with a rolling three-year contract again? How does that work? Does the court reinstate the rolling bit? Does the LCSD eat crow for a few hours and change their vote? (If this happens, it will certainly look like Debi Shimmin learned nothing from Robinson's suspension.) Does Robinson decline the third year and instead get a legal settlement?

Most interestingly at the moment, how does Jim Robinson reconcile the following: a) Robinson supports education and children, and knows exactly how much money the LCSD does not have; b) Robinson is not going to simply let the Board do this, knowing full well that it sets an ugly precedent/Robinson is not going to let the Board do this because he is personally invested in Lebanon and has no intention of leaving without a fight; so c) What happens when those two collide, i.e. when/if justice for Robinson means spending money on his case that would otherwise be spent on students? (Is that even the right way to frame this? I ask because one could also argue that the Board pushed Robinson into such a position in the first place.)

1b. Robinson loses the lawsuit. He still has two years on his contract, and it's entirely possible that there will be big changes to the board by this time next year. I could see him getting renewed next year for one or even two more years. Definitely too early to tell - though I did suggest a rolling two-year contract in a comment at LT's place not too long ago, and that doesn't seem out of the range of possibility.

2. Robinson does not sue.

2a. Despite not suing, there is a backlash against the board's actions, and when next year rolls around, for whatever reason, there is a vote to renew for at least a year, and possibly even get back on the three-year cycle.

2b. No lawsuit, more non-renewal. Robinson goes away. The LCSD gets a tool for a Superintendent. Mirroring the national scene, the district spirals down in flames under the 'leadership' of some individuals who have no idea how to run anything larger than a push mower.

3. A recall is initiated for one or more board members - my guess would be Rick Alexander, then Josh, and least likely Debi. Said recall either a) succeeds, in which case the recall crowd would undoubtedly run the antithesis of Rick Alexander. Without Rick, the board's shenanigans calm down considerably. Or, b) recall fails - and then what happens?

I think I'm about out of steam for the night. Be sure to check the DH tomorrow - Moody's story is usually the first thing out, and it's usually pretty good. I intend to post a link to it as soon as reasonably possible. (Hint hint - would it kill the DH to post things on the web as they are done, not when they make it into the print edition?)

I knew the lull in insanity was too good to be true. Everybody wearing their seat belts? Good - because the crazy train is leaving the station.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Not a proud day to be from the Willamette Valley...

Website here.

Lebanon Express story on the, um, phenomenon, here.

[Hasso Hering] Getting it (mostly) right


As long as the University of Oregon wants to act like a private company where athletics are concerned, maybe the Legislature ought to make it official and turn the athletic department into a private enterprise.

The university refuses to disclose how much it is being paid under a new athletics marketing contract. The office of Attorney General Hardy Myers has agreed with the university. The AG rejected a request by the Portland Oregonian that the payments be disclosed under the Oregon Public Records Act.

“The state has an economic interest in maximizing payments made to its universities pursuant to sports marketing contracts," the AG’s opinion said. “Would-be contractors who know exactly what the UO or OSU agreed to accept in the past might offer less than they otherwise would have offered.’’

By that reasoning, none of the contracts made by public bodies in Oregon — from individual small fire districts and city governments to the giant Department of Transportation — should be open to public inspection.

I agree with him - the reasoning behind the decision to make the contract info a secret is weak. And wrong.

Privatizing college athletics is a giant can of worms he's obviously not thought through (what happens to the status of the student-athletes who participate? Do they become even more exploited once the veneer of interest in their academics is even further stripped away?), but hey, at least this editorial is coherent and genuinely seems to be in the public's interest. Hooray for that.

.... the more I think about this, the stupider Myers' decision is. Really? Sports marketing? I get that it might actually lead to more revenue, but hey - it's a state institution, and that means it should be public information. That's how it works. Yes, there are costs to that, but the benefit (the possibility of democracy) should easily be seen as outweighing the money.

Should, anyway.

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