At the wee hour of 12:01 a.m. on May 30, Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Frederick Navarro, whose contract was set to expire on June 30, was approved for another year of employment by the district trustees.

There was no public hearing, no secret meeting, and no violation of the Brown Act, which would have meant that a majority of the trustees had met in private to discuss the matter. There wasn’t even any discussion between a minority of the trustees.

The one-year extension was perfectly legal, thanks to the language included in the super’s original contract from 2012 and from an addendum signed in 2015. The amendment language reads:

7.A.8. Unilateral termination by the Board. “The Board may, at its sole option, unilaterally terminate this Agreement and the Superintendent’s employment without cause, upon giving the Superintendent thirty (30) days written notice of termination.”

So far so good: Give the super 30 days written notice and he’s gone in a month.

Unless. Unless the trustees do nothing in which case the super gets another year automatically.

Here’s the language from the 2012 contract:

Sec. 8. NOTICE OF NON-RENEWAL AND EXTENSION OF THIS AGREEMENT

        8C. In the event such notice is not given by the board to the Superintendent, the Agreement shall be automatically renewed for one additional year under the same provisions.

So, yes, it’s all perfectly legal. But it’s also all perfectly bad management and fiscally irresponsible.

Forgetting for the moment that 40% of the students in our district failed to meet the 2018 state standards for English, that 49% of them failed to meet the 2018 state standards for math, and that our once-proud district is now the object of ridicule and wonder, the decision is still astonishing.

For any enterprise, public or private, there is almost no benefit to an evergreen contract. Public officials, however, love them. That’s the opinion of Girard Miller, a columnist for Governing magazine, who wrote this way back in 2010:

“Evergreen contracts have been around for many years. School superintendents love them. In many cases, it keeps their compensation out of the public eye.

“Some city managers aspire to have them because of the volatile political world in which they live. But they have an evil underside, which the national soul-searching over the [city of] Bell scandal has revealed. It’s just too easy for complacency to set in, and for salaries to escalate on autopilot.”

Sound familiar? Actually, it sounds like he lives here in Newport-Mesa.

So those secret special meetings of the school board that have been held over the years claiming to be for the “Evaluation of the Superintendent” are not for his evaluation at all. Those are fake meetings.

The real purpose of those meetings has been to determine how much more of your money they should spend on him.

The evergreen clause in this contract is irresponsible, financially unsound, and sneaky.

In other words, it’s business as usual.

 

Steve Smith

 

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