Monday, January 28, 2013

Is TPS Superintendent Pecko on his way out?

Is Jerome Pecko, the superintendent of Toledo Public Schools on his way out?

Based upon recent comments that, at first, seemed oddly out of place, combined with some more recent criticism, I can't help but wonder if TPS board members are thinking of replacing him.

Pecko was hired by the district on August 1, 2010 and has a three-year contract that is up this summer. Unlike other superintendents who have been prominent in various social and public circles, Pecko has seemed to keep a lower profile.

In the various levy campaigns (none approved by the voters), his role was more supportive than one of leadership.

When Brenda Hill was elected by her fellow board members to be president of the TPS board, she listed reviewing the superintendent contract as one of her priorities, along with passing a levy.

At the time, she said board members would soon begin discussions about extending Pecko's contract or finding a replacement.

While reviewing an expiring contract is clearly a priority for the board, especially when it is the superintendent, I thought the phrasing of her comments was a bit odd. Is that really something you announce as a priority? Was this 'notice' that perhaps the board was less than happy with Pecko's performance, especially given the stinging loss of the new levy request at the ballot box, coupled with the previous two losses?

I shrugged Hill's comment off as just a statement of routine business. But then I attended the January TPS board meeting and heard Lisa Sobecki's comments citing her disappointment with the administration.

Lisa Sobecki expressed concern and dissatisfaction that the matter was brought to the board "at the 11th hour." The deadline for placing issues on the May ballot is Feb. 8.

She questioned the lack of a plan for getting the levy passed, especially in light of early voting which would begin in April, leaving the board only the months of February and March to plan a strategy, raise the money and convince voters of the need for the renewal.

Her tone was definitely one of reprimand and it was clear she was not happy with the way the issue was being handled.

Remember, too, that Hill expressed dissatisfaction at the way the last levy was handled, though she stopped short of blaming anyone directly.

But then I read this Toledo Free Press article and I realized that the dissatisfaction with Pecko's performance is deeper than I first realized:

Sobecki said TPS is not planning far enough into the future.

“I’m not seeing the administration preparing for anything past yesterday. I always look to when the school year starts; that’s when I begin planning for the next year,” she said. “It’s already started. You should already have your plan in place. But if you’re going to run off the seat of your pants and plan this as you go, you’re not going to be successful.

“We teach our students that in the classroom — to be organized and to plan for that test in two weeks. You don’t start studying the night before, and I see my administration studying the night before and cramming, and when you cram for a test, you fail a test. That’s my analogy. And they failed the test Tuesday night.”

The article expounds upon Sobecki's comments during the last board meeting discussion about placing a renewal levy on the ballot (emphasis added):

Sobecki said she felt discouraged that she was given so little time to make the decision and was confused by the cabinet-level administrators’ lack of a plan for what she considered an important decision.

“Our administration knows our board well enough to understand that we like to have plans of actions,” Sobecki said. “We’ve had three operating levies defeated recently. And after every defeat, we looked back and asked why.

“The first time the levy failed, [Superintendent Jerome] Pecko said he wasn’t prepared. He was new on board. The second time it failed: ‘We weren’t prepared.’ The third time, this last November, it failed. I don’t want to go into a fourth time when I’m making a decision on $200,000 of taxpayer money. Without a plan, it’s a crapshoot. If we don’t have a plan, but I’ve asked the voters to support us and it’s defeated, I’ve just taken almost a quarter of a million dollars out of taxpayers’ bank account — our general fund — and flushed it down the toilet.”

That thoughtlessness of this administration, in my opinion, is done. It has to stop.

“I was extremely disappointed with the administration’s lackadaisical approach of taking board members’ concerns properly, waiting until the eleventh hour and then pressuring the board to make a decision,” Sobecki said.

Sounds like Sobecki is tired of excuses - and she should be, though I disagree on her stance that the district *needs* new money. I think the Performance Audit they're doing should identify cost savings that, hopefully, will eliminate the *need* for even more funds to be taken from the public and shunted to TPS. But I digress...

But it's not just Pecko's inability to pass a new levy request, it's the communication structure as well:

Sobecki said she was also disappointed because cabinet-level administrators sent board members an email at 10 a.m. on a Thursday informing them of a special Finance Committee meeting the next day at 10 a.m.

“That’s not communicating to your board members effectively,” she said. “I had plenty of questions, and I was not afforded the opportunity to go through committee structure to get to the chair or the co-chair of the committee.”

These are not the type of comments one makes when they plan on supporting a renewal of an employment contract.

Perhaps Pecko sees the writing on the wall:

“Quite frankly, after losing on Nov. 6, after the comprehensive campaign that we just went through, I think our brains just went blank while we were trying to reinvigorate and catch up,” Pecko said. “There were a lot of other things we really had to put attention on.”

"...our brains just went blank..." ???

What kind of a comment is that coming from the man in charge of a major public school district with a multi-million-dollar budget?!?

That's not something you say when you want your employment contract renewed.

My prediction: failure to pass three levies (new money all); lack of communication and lack of planning and preparation, coupled with findings/recommendations from the performance audit (PA) will give TPS board members enough data to justify seeking a new superintendent. They can even say that with the PA done, they're looking for a new start and they believe a new leader with the ability to fully implement the next phase of TPS is the best way to go.

Stay tuned....

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