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Thursday, October 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:42 A.M.

School Superintendent Manhas gets 3-year extension

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Seattle School Board voted 4-3 yesterday to extend Superintendent Raj Manhas' contract for three years. The board was divided over the contract's lack of performance goals and the timing of the decision.

During the emotional meeting, board member Brita Butler-Wall introduced and board member Irene Stewart seconded the motion to extend the contract through Aug. 31, 2007.

Both women were elected last November, along with Darlene Flynn and Sally Soriano, creating a new majority of board members who pledged to ensure the public's participation and open the district's decisions to public scrutiny.

As candidates, they roundly criticized the previous School Board for giving Manhas, then an interim superintendent, a one-year contract without having to undergo public interviews.

Flynn, Soriano and board President Mary Bass voted against the motion. Board members Jan Kumasaka and Dick Lilly, who had voted for Manhas' previous contract, both supported the extension.

Under the new contract, Manhas gets no raise this year and will continue to be paid a $175,000 salary. In the second year, the board will increase his salary based on the compensation of other urban school superintendents. He also will receive $633 a month for work-related travel and 30 days of annual vacation.

The contract permits the board to terminate his employment at any time for any reason, but Manhas would have to be paid a severance equal to one year of salary and benefits. The board also is obliged to evaluate Manhas' performance twice a year — no later than Feb. 15 and no later than Aug. 15 — and refer to his annual goals.

"I'm pleased to get this issue behind us," Manhas said later. Senior staff members expect to present a detailed five-year work plan to the board at the end of this month, he said, which will include goals and objectives.

"The contract is a separate issue," he said.

A key point of dispute for the board was the urgency of extending the contract. Some members thought the board had had more than enough time to make a decision, while others saw no harm in spending more time coming to agreement on his performance goals.
 
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Butler-Wall said the Washington State School Directors Association recommended against inserting performance benchmarks into a contract and advised her that it would be better to negotiate goals and objectives separately.

"My feeling is that the board has had plenty of time," Butler-Wall said after the vote.

She said she thought the decision sent a signal to the community that the board trusts the superintendent to carry out its mission and goals. "When the day is done, I am absolutely convinced without a doubt what is best for our children is for Raj to continue his truly outstanding leadership."

During her public remarks, Butler-Wall conceded that a year ago she thought an educator should be at the district's helm. Manhas previously held senior positions in the Seattle Water Department and Seattle Public Utilities before he joined Seattle Public Schools in October 2001 as chief operating officer. Now that he's had almost a year's experience as superintendent, Butler-Wall said she has changed her mind.

Stewart credited Manhas with making important changes in senior positions, cultivating a historic five-year contract with the teachers union, appointing 29 principals in record time, balancing the district's operating budget and taking important steps toward eliminating disproportionality in academic achievement.

Flynn, her voice laden with emotion, said she had heard from many people and lost sleep over her decision to oppose the extension.

While she has known Raj for a long time and likes him personally, she said, "We are ultimately responsible for the consequences and unintended consequences of this decision."

The three-year contract contains no language — other than termination — that gives the board the ability to hold Manhas accountable for measurable outcomes.

"We have a fuzzy agreement here that doesn't allow me to manage this superintendent," Flynn said. With this contract, "we are not building a foundation of trust and credibility with the people in this room."

Soriano echoed Flynn's concerns and added her own. The Shoreline School District solved its problems with lead in drinking water in six weeks, she said, while Seattle Public Schools has yet to resolve lead issues nearly a year after it said it would. She also supported having an open process in which the public would be able to influence the board's superintendent selection, a position that Bass also endorsed.

Citing her three years on the board, Bass said she hadn't seen enough improvement in South End schools. She also criticized the district's slow response to complaints on lead in drinking water and revelations of a deficit in its capital budget.

"If Mr. Manhas is the perfect person ... an open process will not change that," Bass said. "We are a standards-based system, and we have no standards, no quantifiable measure, for our superintendent."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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