My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Staff criticism shaped case that ousted Amherst schools chief

Hampshire Gazette
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

AMHERST - The chairman of the Amherst Regional School Committee provided new details Tuesday about last week's departure of Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez. He said officials orchestrated an affordable end to a bad hire - and promised a better search and selection process next time.

In an interview, Farshid Hajir said negative staff evaluations were among the factors - but not the only ones - leading to Rodriguez's sudden exit. He stressed that staff views did not appear to be based on resistance to change.

"Committee members had insight and direct knowledge of events of which the public is not aware - and took that information into consideration," he said. "When certain themes consistently emerge about operations of the Central Office, that's more revealing than complaints from individuals."

Further, he noted that Rodriguez left rather than face what would have been a public accounting of his alleged shortcomings in his months as the head of Amherst regional schools.

Hajir spoke cautiously and would not reveal specifics of the staff evaluations. However, he suggested that a close look at Rodriguez's leadership spurred officials to act to cut his tenure short.

"Through our supervisory role, we had access to a lot of information about the specifics of the day-to-day functioning of the schools," he said.

The committees had multiple sources of input on Rodriguez's performance, as well as members' own judgments, Hajir said. In addition to the staff evaluations, the committees reviewed feedback from community members, he said.

This month, Rodriguez was made aware of "a summary of themes" from the staff evaluations, Hajir said.

The superintendent was also aware that by law, his formal evaluation - scheduled for the day after he resigned - would have to be done in public, he said.

"No superintendent wishes to endanger his or her career or opportunities for other positions by having missteps or shortcomings discussed in open session unless he or she can adequately explain them," Hajir said.

"He was going to be evaluated, he walked away with a fairly small compensation package, and I want taxpayers to know their pocketbooks didn't suffer," he said.

The memo that Rodriguez gave the School Committee Feb. 9, outlining his 40 days of time away from work, was "one of many factors that formed the committee's preparation for the evaluation," he said.

Pay issues

Typically, when superintendents leave in the middle of a contract, they ask for at least half of the remaining financial commitment, he said. Rodriguez left eight months into a three-year contract paying him $158,000 a year in base salary, and he will be paid through May at a cost of $39,000, about one-tenth of his remaining pay over the three-year period, he said.

Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk, who had been making $109,000, started making $139,000 on March 9, Hajir said. She is expected to continue in that role until a new superintendent arrives in about 15 months, and some of her previous duties will be "reshuffled among other staff members," Hajir said.

The school committees hope to identify a better process for hiring the next superintendent, he said.

"We regret that the extensive superintendent search process yielded a curtailed superintendency and the larger question is how to avoid that in the future," he said. "A serious examination of ourselves and our process is warranted."


LarryK4 said...

Gotta wonder why the Regional School Committee Chair spoke so "cautiously" about the anonymous staff evaluations of Rodriguez.

The Gazette has requested them under Public Documents Law and I have requested Mr. Hajir's four notebooks worth of observations of Rodriguez.

And we're gonna get them--one way or the other.

Anonymous said...


To what possible positive end is "we're gonna get them" going to lead?

The school committee has acknowledged that the hiring process led to a flawed result. They have taken action they felt was regrettable, yet necessary. Now they want to reflect on that process and move on.

What good will it do to know more specifics of what happened beyond what we already know? Who will it hurt, and will serve to help any of us? Your actions in this direction seem petty, spiteful, and not useful at all.

Please let it lie.

Sam I Am

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Hajir has a tough job and I don't envy that for a minute. He seems like a smart man and I am thankful that he is volunteering his time. But I am not so sure about how he runs the meetings and why he let the SC vote on such weighty matters as whether to go forward with a Superintendent search or not, whether to get an outsider for an interim superintentent or not, whether to hire Ms. Geryk for four months or 16 months without any interview process, or public comment or time to think things through, and all of these things were decided on one night at one meeting when nobody was expecting all of this to happen just hours after the Superintendent's departure was confirmed. I am also doubting Mr. Hajir's abilities to preside with authority over the meetings after the lack of decorum that I witnessed at the first meeting after the Superintendent left.

It might be that he was having an off night after everything that had transpired within just days. But again, I wish he had put the brakes on things and given his committees the chance to rest and regroup without pushing forward with so many decisions.

Anonymous said...

He just doesn't do a good job running meetings.


TomG said...

Off Topic
Ernest Dalkas *
Kathleen Anderson
Rick Hood
Rob Spence *
Vincent O'Connor

On Topic
I would like to hear some detail from the School Committee regarding Dr R's departure.

For example, was he asked to resign by the SC or did he tender his resignation without a request? ...did he tender his resignation after being told he would be asked about some allegations about the way he conducted himself in the office? (Would those be fair questions for a public forum or is he entitled to an investigation by an impartial investigator?) Was he being backed up against a wall? What was the nature of his incompatibility with the Amherst Public Schools? Would we have been better served to allow him to finish the year and continue to make progress for the pay expended? How were these decisions decided, in full SC committee meetings?

How was the decision to delay the search made? Why was it rushed?

Due diligence is the hallmark of prudence.

This process smells like coup de etat by senior school administrators who dug their heals in and pushed back against the change necessary to make our good schools great. The chair and other members are going to have to work harder to explain what went down and how you handled it. From the outside looking in, it looks pretty bad and it's not apparent that the only problem as the hire.

Can the SC reconsider and initiate the search with all deliberate speed and put the interim super on terms that ask for her services as interim until the permanent super starts?

Anonymous said...

Catherine -

I am finding that my biggest issue with the override is a lack of trust of many of our officials and difficulty finding facts. I hope you can help with the latter.

1. Is it true that details of the school budget are not publically available?

2. I have a vague recollection that originally a $1 million override was suggested by the School Committee as the level of funding needed. This was suddenly increased to $1.2 million, but you abstained from the vote to increase. Do I have this correct or wrong? If correct, is there any insight you can legally provide to this change?

3. In regards to the above, last night Andy Churchill said something to the effect that the twon and schools would only use the money they deemed necessary and would not levee all of the override if it wasn't needed. Or at least that was what I took away. He referred to the teachers' concession of $300k. He also refered to a promise by the town departments to not reinstate cuts that would not be covered even if the override passes.

Does this mean that if voters approve the $1.86 million override, the town will only assess $1.56 million, at least for the first year? I really am having trouble trusting that this would happen, particularly in light of my question 2. If the School Committee has already been pushed to say they need $1.2 versus $1 million, how will town officials ever be albe to restrain from assessing all of the override?

4. Is the list of cuts publically available? Both those that will have to happen even with the override, and those that will not happen if the override passes? I am very frustrated that so close to the vote, this list is not readily available.

Ed said...

To what possible positive end is "we're gonna get them" going to lead?

Could it be possible that there are people other than the superintendent who need to be leaving?

If the unprincipled principal's insubordinate rant are reflective of how he conducts business behind the locked doors of the High School, I would say that he needs to be leaving as well. As likely do others.

Maybe every classroom teacher is a blushing virgin in all of this and the problem is all with the administration - OK, lets clean out the hornets once and for all.

Bug spray, like firing the supt, only is a temporary fix. What you gotta do is dig the nest out of the ground and burn it, we need those evaluations to be public because we need to identify the other people needing to be fired and we need to fire them.

That simple.

We have been spraying the hornets nest for some time - we really need to dig the thing out of the ground and burn it....

LarryK4 said...

It's called "transparency", Sam I Am--you should try it sometime, and start by using your real name.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the concerns of Anon 11:29, I also question the math when Mr Hajir says that $39,000 is one tenth of the remainder of the supt contract. $39,000 is one tenth of $390,000 - which is NOT the remainder of the contract.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind my comment about the one-tenth -- I now get it that it was a multi-year contract. And now (I guess) I'm glad we could get out if it without giving him half - ugh!

Anonymous said...

To Sam I Am:
So you're content to let town officials conduct our affairs without oversight? You believe that they know best - better than we do?
They are our representatives, not our parents. This is public business and we have the right to almost all the information that the school committee has. What we are entitled to should be released with no delay. Larry and the Gazette are doing our work for us by seeking it.
As has been said a lot recently - sunshine is the best disinfectant. Without full information, rumors start and fester. And THAT is 'not useful at all,' to use your words.
And if there is uncomfortable information, all the better that we know it, so we can not repeat past mistakes.

Nina Koch said...

to 7:40 am--

I am wondering if you have looked at this page on the district web site:

There is a lot of information on there. If there is something that you don't see on there, could you send me an email and let me know? I will see if I can find it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina,
I have looked at that page and found it very confusing. I recall seeing in the past a list of what is on the cut list and what an override will restore. Not just positions and costs, but what this looks like to parents regarding electives, sports, course offerings, etc. Is there a current list anywhere?

Nina Koch said...

yes there is a lot of information on the page. Some people really want all of the links on one page like that, while other people understandably find it hard to navigate. Just different preferences, I guess.

Anyway, I would recommend that you use the Find feature of your browser and search on the word "Cuts" because there are several documents related to that.

For high school specific information you can go here, where there are fewer documents to choose from and it might be easier for you to find the kind of thing you are looking for:

high school budget info

Anonymous said...

Ms. Sandserson,

I notice the Gazette article reporting that the teachers agreed to a giveback through furlough is missing from your blog, yet you seem to post most if not all of the other related articles.

Why would you not post the one that may show the teachers to be willing to do their part in these tough times?

Maybe it was just an oversight on your part. I'll give you the benfit of the doubt until I read your response.

Anonymous said...

Calm down! I don't think black helicopters are taking over this blog.

Although CS has not yet posted the piece about what the teacher union decided, she did post my comment about it. I think she simply missed that article while she was away -- there were quite a few.

Rick said...

Quick one on this from Anon 7:40:
“Does this mean that if voters approve the $1.86 million override, the town will only assess $1.56 million, at least for the first year?”
Because of the teacher giveback plus the stated aid coming in at -4% instead of the assumed -5%, the FC has said that $1.18million would be the levy increase for 2011, not $1.68million – that was the deal stated when the override got put on the ballot.
The other $500k could be used to increase the levy in future years. (note the override is $1.68 not $1.86 as stated).

Anonymous said...

anon @ 2:14 PM,

school teacher! and an impatient one at that.

Anonymous said...

ummmm way to attack anon 2:14, anon 2:20

S/he was very polite in giving Ms. S the benefit of the doubt. I believe it is you who should calm down.

And CS may not have posted it because she is on vacation, or was.

Anonymous said...

If Nina, Catherine or anyone else has the answer to this it would be great. If the override passes will the HS restore Auto and Wood Tech, Clothing and Foods courses. I couldn't find anything course specific.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anon 214p, i have done this several times in the past-- if there is an article that you think is interesting and relevant, please post the link. it's as simple as that. CS obviously put up your accusatory post, it's obvious she has no reason not to post the article you refer to.

interestingly enough, the article really doesn't make teachers look good at all, by the way. NO GIVEBACK PERIOD. that's what happened. only if an override passes, the teachers are willing to take unpaid vacation instead of working for 3 curriculum days a year. 3 days that kids weren't being taught anyway. that sounds to me like they will get less money for doing less work. that is not a giveback at all. get it straight and get a life.

i never necessarily thought that the teachers should do a giveback, by the way. that contract was negotiated fair and square and it's amherst's failure to negotiate a contract we can't pay for. but for you to make it sound like the union agreed to a giveback and that CS was trying to bury the story or hide it or not give credit where credit is due, is absolutely laughable.

Anonymous said...

can someone please clarify? does the union have to agree to a furlough or can it somehow be otherwise imposed? in other words, okay, the teachers are willing to voluntarily do a furlough of 3 days so the district can save 3 days' worth of pay. but could the district ever impose a furlough, or can the state impose one even without the union's consent?

sounds like a question for a lawyer but maybe someone is out there. thanks.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 1840 -"the teachers are willing to take unpaid vacation instead of working for 3 curriculum days a year. 3 days that kids weren't being taught anyway. that sounds to me like they will get less money for doing less work."

You obviously have no idea the amount of work teachers are doing "after hours" - afternoons, evenings, weekends. These "vacation" days will be used to plan, grade papers, make phone calls to parents, do research, collect materials, coordinate with colleagues - from home rather than from school. What these "vacation days" mean is that the professional development we are required to do for recertification will have to be done on our real vacation days and paid for out of our pockets.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't - we are willing to give back, on average, $1,000 per teacher, but that's not good enough because it requires taxpayers to put up, in most cases, less than $1 a day. I actually live in Amherst, and am planning to vote for the override, so I'll get hit twice.

In short I end up with less money, more work because budget-saving changes over the last few years have made the job more challenging, and no appreciation from some for the work I do. Great way to build morale.

Nina Koch said...

Hi 7:35,

I think this letter addresses your question about course offerings:

Impact of Budget on Course Registration

It was posted on the letters to parents page but you're right that it should have been on the budget page too. I have added a link, so thanks for the question.

The upshot of the letter is that the school will decide in early April which courses they can afford to add back in. At the direction of the school committee, they have re-prioritized the cuts list so that electives will be added back in first.

Anonymous said...

I agree that morale is an issue. It's been a tough year in the schools.

However, as an unemployed new teacher (recently licensed and unable to find a job), please take some pleasure in the fact that you DO have a job, in a good district to boot. I'll trade with you any day.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of things to be grateful for.

Anonymous said...

The teacher give-back is a gimmick. It's a give-back, but with raises, many of which are more than $1000. Many teachers will make more next year than this year even with the 3 unpaid vacation days they're offering.

Probably the majority of our teachers live elsewhere, where their property taxes are lower. Most teachers post here without giving their names, but it would be interesting to see how many of them live here and are willing to pay higher property taxes forever. The unpaid vacation days are a one time thing.

If we're in a crisis, then EVERYONE has to CUT BACK. Let's start with everyone making over $90,000 per year taking an actual pay cut. Then we can talk about permanent increases in property taxes.

Anonymous said...

Nina, another way to "save" electives is to increase class sizes from the current 20 or so per class at the high school. Currently there are 80 or so academic high school classes with less than 20 students. Some of these classes will always be small but that's a heck of a lot of small classes. Studies consistently show that small class sizes do not give any advantage at the high school level.

An override is not needed to save electives. This an administrative and scheduling issue, not a money one. But it is being presented as a money issue (as music cuts always are) for reasons one can only speculate at.

Anonymous said...

I know lots of teachers who live and work in Amherst, including me. I will also be voting for the override in addition to taking furlough days. I don't think it should be assumed that most of the teachers live in other towns.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if Mark Jackson would actually make a list of what would be restored, in order. After he told us during the last override vote that there would be no more Mullins center graduations without an override I have a hard time believing any vague promises.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:40 March 18: That list has been available since Feb. 10. Here's the link to the detailed list of cuts:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that link. It is nice to see it laid out that way but it still doesnt say what CLASSES will be restored.