Thoughts on the Sanchez Resignation and the Next Steps for TUSD

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As most everyone knows by now, H.T. Sanchez resigned as TUSD superintendent Tuesday. You can read the official Separation and Release Agreement here. It's a clean break agreement. No one is admitting guilt on either side. Members of the board can't speak badly about Sanchez, and Sanchez can't speak badly about the board. If anyone violates this "non-disparagement" agreement, that person can be sued and, if found guilty, is responsible for paying the damages. That should effectively button lips on both sides. Sanchez gets $200,000 for leaving, which I figure is more-or-less half of what he would get in salary if he stayed until his contract was up.

People in the community will continue to talk about Sanchez, I'm sure, but TUSD is saying, "Let's move on." I agree.

What comes next? Unless the board majority has a Plan B with someone already in mind as the next superintendent, the next step is up in the air. So, a few thoughts.

First, I'm folding my hands and praying a secular prayer that the board hires a competent, effective superintendent with as little fussing and fighting as possible. I'm not sure how many great potential superintendents are job hunting right now, but I imagine a number of applicants for the job will be reasonably capable. A great superintendent can move a district forward, usually by small steps, not by leaps and bounds. A bad superintendent can be a drag on the district and bring it down a few notches. A competent, caretaker superintendent can keep things running with a modicum of efficiency and, with a bit of luck, lower the hysteria level just a little. I'll add that I hope the new superintendent is both confident and cautious. People will be pushing and pulling the Supe from all directions, and the best response, at least in the near future, is to plot a steady course instead of bending with whatever wind is strongest.

Second, I hope the superintendent the district hires is an educator, not a bean counter. Lots of the complaints about Sanchez by his detractors, including the current board majority who voted him out, have to do with misspent money, and those board members may think the best way to solve the problem is to hire a numbers-savvy superintendent who can put the books in apple-pie order and keep them that way. So, they might decide, let's hire an expert number cruncher, a former CFO, say, who can work together with the district's financial managers alongside a reconstituted audit committee and straighten out the financial mess they believe the district is in.

The problem is, financial decisions aren't educational decisions. That's why we have CFOs, to watch the money. The superintendent's job is to keep the bigger picture in mind, and the only big picture that really matters is the students and their families. Decisions need to be driven by what's best for the people the district serves, not by what looks prudent or efficient on a financial spreadsheet.

There's another real danger if we have a "minding the store" superintendent without a strong educational background. It would create an educational leadership vacuum some board members would be delighted to fill. Board members aren't qualified to run the district. They hire a superintendent and other administrators to do that. They have decision-making responsibilities. They sometimes suggest directions the district should head. But none of them have the background or the experience or the time spent deep inside the district to know how to run things.

Mark Stegeman, someone who has never worked inside a K-12 school system, has demonstrated a serious lack of humility when it comes to what he knows about education. Rachael Sedgwick, who has some K-12 education experience but not enough to qualify her to run a district, looks like she's cut from similar cloth. Neither they nor other board members should be allowed to use the district as a plaything to experiment with. "I'll bet it would be great if we . . . I wonder what would happen if we . . ." A superintendent weak on educational knowledge and skills could allow board members to make foolish decisions for the district.

I really, really want what's good for TUSD. I hope for the best, but I fear the worst. If the district ends up with some kind of middle ground, some stability in leadership and a reasonable level of respect from the community, at this moment, I'll consider that a victory.

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