I arrived 30 minutes late to last night’s 90-minute meeting at Mariners. By the time I arrived, the discussion had turned to expressions of frustration over the leadership at the school level.

Though it may have been discussed before I arrived, I did not hear anything about the scandal that prompted this meeting, the meeting on Tuesday, and the strong showing of Mariners teachers and parents at the last two school board club meetings.

That scandal is the accusation by teachers through their union that the Mariners application for Gold Ribbon status contained numerous “untruths and inaccuracies.”

Last night’s meeting was facilitated by Kirk Bauermeister and he was accompanied by two other district officials.

Toward the end of the meeting, I asked two questions.

The first was, “Why isn’t the superintendent here?”

We were told by Bauermeister that the three representatives were there to “gather information and report back to him.” I countered with the comment that the report cannot possibly show the voice inflections of the attendees, their facial expressions and their body language, all of which are crucial to forming a complete impression of the frustration of the teachers and parents. Bauermeister said that it would be in his report and I believe he means well, but his promise is an impossibility.

Superintendent Frederick Navarro was not at the Tuesday meeting, either. His absence supports what I have been claiming for a very long time – that we have a superintendent who refuses to get his hands dirty by being directly involved in district scandals – and there have been many – and who sends his subordinates out to do the dirty work. We do not need an Imperial Superintendency, we need decisive leadership.

As I sat in the Mariners MPR last night, a thought occurred to me… Say what you will about ex-superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, but he would have been at last night’s meeting.

My other question concerned this report that will be submitted to the superintendent. I asked whether it would be made public and was assured that it would be. I wonder, though, whether it will contain this question asked by a parent last night: “Can we get a new superintendent?”

I understand the frustration of the teachers and parents. There may not have been anyone in the room who has experienced the same frustration longer than I have. But I refuse to focus on this as a problem at the principal level of Mariners Elementary. The district will do what they will about the principal, but this is merely a symptom, not the real problem. They will not tackle the greater, more important problem of the culture of fear and intimidation that supports inappropriate  behavior, low teacher morale, and an inability to be sufficiently forthright and transparent.

Remember… This all started with the Gold Ribbon application. So where is the report on the union’s claim of “untruths and inaccuracies?” If these accusations are true, are there plans to admit as much and return the award?

These are the unanswered questions and though we were assured that we would be reading a report before the end of the school year, that is much too convenient. What happens after the report? What are the tasks, who will be completing them, and when will they be completed?

These are all questions that are routine in the private sector, where accountability is a key component to keeping one’s job. But it doesn’t work that way in a bureaucracy such as the N-MUSD.

So, the administration and the school board club lurch toward the end of the school year a week from tomorrow. They’ll issue a report and maybe there will be an administrative change, maybe not, and they’ll exhale when the school year is over. But I can guarantee you that the greater problem of leadership at the top will not be discussed.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear at least one school board club member praise the superintendent for his handling of the matter.

Steve Smith