Bad blood runs in school district relations
Superintendent on job hunt and board members fail to unite
Valdez Star file photo
Dr. Lisa Stroh in the superintendent's office, new on the job, last September.
The superintendent of Valdez City Schools has applied for a job with the Petersburg school district, the principal of Valdez High School has tendered her resignation and the relationship between the board of education, individual school board members, school district administrators, employees and the general public is at an all-time low.
"The Board meeting of February 24th proved to be challenging for the Board, individual Board members, the Superintendent and those in attendance," a prepared statement from Dawn Farmer, acting president of the board of education for Valdez City Schools, said Monday night. "The Board recognizes that advice and counsel regarding the conduct of Board meetings and the role of the Superintendent and Board may be helpful to reestablishing the orderly conduct of meetings and facilitating the business of the Board. Toward this end, the Board will have a special meeting on March 18, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. which all Board members have agreed to attend and will include discussions with the Executive Director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, Mr. Joseph Reeves, and Board Attorney John Sedor. The Board will consider legal responsibilities, options and opportunities for it to improve the climate of the District and keep and maintain focus on the educational services provided to the Students of Valdez. It is anticipated that the meeting will include executive sessions appropriate to the situation and allowable under Alaska law."
The move comes after a tumultuous meeting where Dr. Lisa Stroh, district superintendent, walked out during the meeting under heavy pressure from board member Alan Sorum and complaints of unfavorable management style levied by meeting attendees.
In the days after the meeting, Stroh's name appeared on a list of applicants vying for the opening for a new superintendent in Petersburg.
Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek, principal of Valdez High School, submitted her resignation at the district office last Thursday, one year short of full filling a three-year renewable contract.
"It's effective May 30," Balcerek said of her resignation. "I've known since November this would be my last year here."
Balcerek said she and her husband will be leaving Valdez in favor of retirement in the couple's home state of North Carolina.
Farmer, vice-president of the board, declined to comment on the resignation and Stroh's application to Petersburg.
Farmer is acting president during a nearly month long absence of board president Anita Fannin.
Stroh, who was in Montana Monday during the district's spring break, said she applied for the position in Petersburg because the board of education had failed to complete her required performance evaluation in a timely fashion and she felt it was prudent to look at other employment options.
"I have to keep my options open," Stroh said.
The month of March is the prime hiring season for educational jobs nationwide.
School administrators must be notified before March 15, by law, if the district intents to renew their contracts.
Farmer said the board began an evaluation process for the superintendent March 3.
The board has failed to evaluate its superintendents since the departure of former superintendent Lance Bowie.
Stroh said she asked the board to meet in executive session last February regarding her evaluation and was offended when board members Farmer and Sorum voted against holding the meeting, which was later approved by the majority of other board members.
Executive sessions are held out of the public view and allowed only in narrowly defined circumstances.
Stroh was also dismayed recent board actions, such as the insistence of a number of board members that new hires by the superintendent be approved by the board.
"The board's role is governing, not managing," Stroh said.
The Valdez board of education has a history of micromanaging its superintendents and administrators, and have been warned in past financial audits that its tendency to demand board approval for small expenditures lessens it credibility rather than enhances it.
The role is the school board is to set school district policy, create a yearly budget and hire superintendents and evaluate them yearly.
Last January, John Hozey, city manager of Valdez, wrote a pointed letter sent to each school board member, advising the board to steer clear of meddling with school district employment issues, which are clearly under the jurisdiction of the superintendent, not the school board.
"They just need to remember their role," Stroh said. "They're not to get into the day to day management of the schools."
Tony Gorman/Valdez Star file photo
Superintendent Lisa Stroh playing trombone with the Buccaneer band during Elks Tournament last February.
The board had previously canceled Monday night's regularly scheduled board meeting but has scheduled five meetings in March, including a regular meeting, a budget meeting, and three "special meetings." The schedule is published in an advertisement on page 2 of this newspaper.
It is unclear what issues will be address by the board during the three special meetings.
It is clear that a breakdown has occurred between board members and its administration. The attrition rate of school employees during the school year has been high, and several high profile employment separations have occurred.
Will Stroh join that rank?
"I've applied and you know, we'll see what happens," she said.