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Change law on reviewing school superintendents

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By Ben Carlson

There has been plenty of hand wringing over the past several days as the taxpaying public searches in vain for answers why its popular school superintendent suddenly resigned.
One of those taxpayers, Morrie Pongratz, rightly questioned the school board Tuesday night, saying that the public deserves to know what led to this situation.
That would be the ideal situation but unfortunately, state law allows school boards to review superintendents behind closed doors, allowing board members to say whatever they choose in private and never having to reveal publically their individual opinions or thoughts on the superintendent’s performance.
Oh, following the review, the board will release a milquetoast summary, which purposefully doesn’t capture individual criticisms or concerns and focuses instead on blanket, unattributed statements that rarely if ever give taxpayers a true assessment of what each board member truly thinks.
To further complicate the issue, because that process occurs in secret, board members are then forbidden to discuss with taxpayers exactly what was said and by whom.
Don’t for a moment think that while board president Jim Hall read a statement during Tuesday’s meeting that focused on media complaints instead of the issue, Hall and the rest of the board didn’t secretly thank their lucky stars that such a law exists and that they were immune from answering questions from the people who elected them.
Not only does this wrongheaded system shortchange and frustrate those taxpayers who shell out millions each year to fund the school district, it certainly provides a level of cover for school board members who get to hide behind a law purposefully designed to give them political cover.
Should other school personnel be subjected to public reviews? Absolutely not. From principals to maintenance workers, those folks deserve and are entitled to privacy on their performance reviews and should expect nothing less.
The superintendents, however, is the only one recruited, interviewed and hired directly by the school board, and while it may be a bit uncomfortable to have his or her performance publically vetted, the past several days have proved that it’s much more uncomfortable for the taxpaying public to understand why someone who is widely considered to have done a good job so suddenly decamped.

Ben Carlson is the publisher of the Los Alamos Monitor.