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Originally published July 29, 2014 at 4:09 PM | Page modified July 30, 2014 at 11:12 AM

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Editorial: Fix Seattle Schools’ superintendent turnover issues

Turnover in the superintendent’s office of Seattle Public Schools wastes time, money and talent. Is the school board part of the problem?

Seattle Times Editorial


IF recent history is any guide, the hiring process to replace Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda should be kept in place once the next superintendent is hired.

Maybe the district can get a volume discount for those recruitment services. Banda is the district’s fifth school chief in a decade. So that suggests the process will start over in a couple of years.

Times reporter John Higgins’ revealing and disturbing story about the tensions surrounding Banda’s departure points toward some Seattle School Board members’ behavior and management meddling as a contributing factor. Some members have expressed similar concerns about their colleagues’ treatment of staff.

Banda says he is leaving in part for family reasons. Yes, they all do. But tensions between the superintendent and the board — or some members of the board — seem to play a role.

Indeed, Banda was upset, as Higgins reported, about the treatment of school district personnel by certain board members. In an email to the board, Banda defended staff and asserted that attacks on one senior staff member’s integrity “borders on defamation.”

The operative word going forward should be boundaries. Those senior administrators report to the superintendent. The superintendent works for the board. If elected board members have questions or issues, route them through the superintendent’s office.

Civility is another key word. Board members putting pressure on district employees is no way to shape policy or influence daily operations. Civility also applies to relations among board members as well.

Of the June 3 Banda email, board Chairwoman Sharon Peaslee told the reporter, “We don’t even know what he’s referring to.” Nearly two months after the email was sent, that is a lame response.

The only feeble defense to be mounted on the board’s behalf is a pattern of rapid turnover at the top among school districts nationwide.

Surveys among the nation’s five dozen largest schools, and more than 2,000 other districts, find roughly similar numbers: three or more new superintendents in a decade. Seattle is pushing the average down.

By the widest margin, most schools are overseen by school boards, not boards and mayors, or mayors alone. But the chronic melodrama on the Seattle School Board certainly stirs a curiosity for a change in governance.

The Seattle School Board is in place to shape policy. The superintendent is hired to provide coherent management. Sniping and second-guessing from the sidelines by board members only sends education professionals to the help-wanted ads.

Turnover in the district office gets teachers, students and parents no place. School Board members would do better to show more respect for district staff.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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