One wonders how a school board can rate the performance of its superintendent as “excellent” when the preceding three years have been filled with missteps, poor judgment, scapegoating, and bad management.

The latest example is the application by Mariners Elementary School for the state’s Gold Ribbon status.

The N-MUSD wants you to believe that it was a lone person responsible for what the N-MFT referred to as “untruths and inaccuracies.” This was the predictable response and the shortest path to sweeping this mess under the nearest available rug.

Unfortunately, the truth has gotten in the way. Even if we accept their claim that one person – the school’s principal – completed the application, the reality is that it was approved by the superintendent: His signature appears on the document. Further, a three-person team from the Orange County Department of Education came to the school to verify certain information, which they did, and gave the application their OK.

What happened after that is a disgrace. The principal was removed from the school and demoted, forced to live out her time until the dragged out “independent investigation” was completed. I’m guessing that she probably knew, as did the district, that the investigation was a fait accompli; that it would support evidence of errors, in whole or part, and provide information to support the responsibility of the principal – directly or indirectly – while failing to mention the role of the superintendent.

So let’s assume. Let’s assume that the purpose of the investigation was to report only the facts and not report what should have been done instead or not report any responsibility by any person involved.

Fine. But even with that assumption, the ultimate responsibility still falls squarely on the superintendent – in this case not only because he is the district’s head guy and the buck stops at his desk, but also because he put his John Hancock on the application. By signing it he blessed it and with that comes credit if it works and culpability if it does not.

When the news broke of the possible “untruths and inaccuracies,” the superintendent had a choice: He could either admit his prominent role in the application process – the high road – or he could ignore it and hope no one notices his signature – the low road.

Unfortunately, he chose to hide. Over the next nine months while the investigation was in progress, the principal was left twisting in the wind, perhaps knowing that others shared the responsibility but unwilling to say anything without risking damage to her career.

It’s not too late for the superintendent to admit his complicity, but he won’t. Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance and if he has not admitted responsibility for other problems, he certainly won’t do it this time.

For some in the district, his poor leadership example should be a wake-up call. Those in a position to speak for the district on any subject now know that they will not have the support of the superintendent should any issue go south. It’s better to know now that your boss doesn’t have your back than to find out after the bullets start flying. But like the school principal, they won’t learn this lesson. They will believe that they are an exception and that the principal’s fate will never be their own.

My guess is that if polled, the teachers at Mariners would vote to return the Gold Ribbon Award. I believe this because I believe in the integrity of the teachers in the district. But no such poll will be conducted because the district is trying to make this scandal disappear as soon as possible.

Besides, returning the award would mean tarnishing the reputation of the superintendent and put a blemish on the school board club, which has just given him high marks and more of your money.

As they hoped, the Gold Ribbon scandal is about to disappear. But as with so many similar incidents since this superintendent has taken the helm, it is important to let the school board club know that there is at least one person in the district who knows that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD