Newsmakers With Jerry Roberts
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How Schools Supe Got Re-Upped for $354K+


The terms of two newly elected Santa Barbara school board members, to be sworn in on Tuesday night, will be shaped by the lame duck board’s recent, quiet decision to extend Superintendent Cary Matsuoka’s $354,861.62 annual contract until 2021.

On Nov. 6, voters elected the newcomers, career educator Kate Ford and social worker Rose Munoz.

The vote followed a campaign marked by sharp criticisms of Matsuoka’s record, on issues from the seemingly intractable academic achievement gap between white and Latino students, to cost overruns on the Peabody Stadium project and the district’s bungled handling of the infamous “chat room” imbroglio at San Marcos High School.

In running for the board, eight candidates also consistently complained of a lack of “transparency” at the district, while several charged that the incumbent board was little more than a rubber stamp for the superintendent's wishes.

Nevertheless, the incumbent board voted 5-0 on Nov. 13, exactly one week after the election, to add another year to Matsuoka’s rolling three-year contract, locking him in until June 30, 2021. Although Santa Barbara's district has far fewer students than do California's 10 largest districts, the financial terms of his contract compare favorably to those of the superintendents in those areas (chart below).

The SB Unified board’s hiring and firing authority over the superintendent is its most important power, along with oversight of the budget of more than $160 million.

Despite the campaign opprobrium about a lack of transparency, there was no publicized invitation for public comment, either in writing or in an open forum, about Matsuoka's performance.

Instead, the board’s annual review of the superintendent, which led to his contract extension, took place entirely in five closed sessions, from which the public is routinely barred because of privacy guidelines governing personnel matters.

Brief notice that the board was conducting a performance review appeared only on the “Closed Session” portion of the school board agenda. These private sessions take place before the members meet in public.

The Nov. 13 vote followed a few moments of perfunctory board remarks, the only comments on the subject not made in closed session. There was no public testimony.

Transparent vs. Translucent. The only news report about Matsuoka’s contract came from Josh Molina at Noozhawk, who noted it in two sentences at the end of a story focused on several other matters at the meeting.

After Josh’s story appeared, several parents contacted Newsmakers to express surprise, if not astonishment, that the board had not widely publicized the fact that the contract review was underway, or provided a process for them to make their opinions known.

Confusing matters, several board members themselves were unclear about the timing of the contract extension vote, and before the election provided incorrect information to some parents.

One member of “Save Our Schools,” the ad hoc political organization led by parents at San Marcos High School who were instrumental in electing Ford, posted on the group’s website a video recording of an October meeting between leaders of the group and board members Laura Capps and Ismael Ulloa, who later lost his election bid.

At the San Marcos meeting, the two board members erroneously told parents that Matsuoka’s contract would not be decided until the “end of the calendar year,” or after the election winners were sworn in, the video showed.

When the issue popped up as a public agenda item on Nov. 13, Capps apologized from the dais for her previous statements, saying she “misspoke.” (The video was quickly removed from the SOS website after another parent complained that its dissemination would be damaging for the district and community cooperation moving forward).

In supporting Matsuoka’s extension at the school board meeting, President Jackie Reid said the board faced a strict deadline of December 1 to act, because of a provision in his contract. She stated that the board’s decision was the result of a “rigorous evaluation” process.

Capps agreed. Referring to the “Closed Session” notices that had appeared on previous agendas, she said the matter had been “fully agendized.” She added that the process was “as transparent as can be.”

All righty, then.

Cary makes bank. Here is a breakdown of Matsuoka’s compensation, which is similar to that of his predecessor, Dave Cash, according to district flack Lauren Bianchi Klemann:

  • Salary: $294,092.71

  • 403(b) contribution: $12,000

  • Health benefits: 3,821.76.

  • State teachers’ retirement pension contribution: 44,947.15

Total compensation. $354,861.62.

Santa Barbara Unified School District has 15,042 students, according to data compiled by the state Department of Education.

Here is how Matsuoka’s financial package compares to the 10 largest districts in California, ranked by student populations. (Compensation figures are from Transparent California, a database of public employee salaries. District sizes are according to the California Department of Education site).

District Students Supe's pay package

L.A. Unified 621,414 $410,749

San Diego Unified 126,400 647,470

Long Beach Unified 74,681 351,267

Fresno Unified 73,455 426,532

Elk Grove Unified 63,297 384,698

San Francisco Unified 60,263 249,353

Capistrano Unified 53,262 419,971

Corona-Norco Unified 53,294 458,263

Santa Ana Unified 53,131 398,190

San Bernardino Unified 53,027 460,897

Santa Barbara Unified 15,042 $354,862

Fun with numbers: A reasonable man might make a crude arithmetic calculation -- Matsuoka gets paid $23.59 per student, while the superintendent of Long Beach Unified, who has a similar compensation package, receives $4.70. And so on.

Then again, living here ain’t cheap.

Deep in the weeds. When Newsmakers raised the issue of transparency with board members, both Capps and president Jackie Reid pushed back, saying they had followed proper protocols, processes and procedures.

During an extended email colloquy on the subject between Reid and our high-powered Education Policy and Playin’ Hooky Advisory Council, the board president began with this statement:

The Board implemented a rigorous evaluation process of the Superintendent. The Board designed surveys that were disseminated to ALL District Classified staff, certificated staff, and principals. We also conducted interviews with the District Cabinet team, office, and community leaders.

Between all the surveys and meetings, we were able to get assessments from approximately 450 management, certificated, classified employees, and community leaders. The Board also constructed an additional evaluation survey in which we evaluated five broad management areas relational to: Vision and Leadership, Board-Superintendent relations, Instructional Leadership, Communication, and Systems and Operations.

…The Board followed protocols of the (California School Board Association) best practices presentation and CSBA materials…

Newsmakers then posed a couple follow-ups:

Q: How many surveys total went out, i.e. what was the return rate?

A: Staff = 1685 including management - does not include subs, coaches or hourlies.

Q: Of the total, how many went to "community leaders?" Can you offer a couple examples of whose they are?

A: I can not name the people. I do not have a total count of the community members interviewed.

Q: Did any surveys go to parents?

A: No.

Q: I've heard from a couple folks that some of those who received surveys who had critical comments, particularly teachers, were afraid to return them for fear of retribution and did not trust the promise of confidentiality - any comment on that?

A: The survey was anonymous. I sent a second email to reiterate that the survey was anonymous-- also providing a Google video that showed how to check that it was anonymous in case they had any additional questions. Anyone that personally asked me--I responded and explained this as well.

Q: Why was it necessary to do this by December 1? What exactly was the deadline?

A: Pursuant to the terms of Mr. Matsuoka's contract, the board is required to complete its annual evaluation on or before December 1st each year. This is common practice across all districts. This answers your question below.

Q: I'm confused about the one-year extension: as I understand it, it is a rolling contract, i.e. after every year the supe gets a performance review and the board makes a decision based on that whether to extend the contract.

A: YES. Further, the contract is consistent (or aligned) with the previous Superintendent.

So there's that.

A search for solutions. Capps, who stated publicly that the process was “as transparent as can be,” also argued that parents’ criticisms were misplaced.

She said that anyone who routinely perused school board agendas would have known that Matsuoka’s contract was under review, because it appeared on the “Closed Session” calendar, and should have understood that making a public comment at one of these meetings would be the proper method of weighing in on the superintendent’s performance.

She sent us this statement.*

"The evaluation of the superintendent was publicly and clearly placed on the top of closed session agenda five times with opportunity for the public to weigh in-- on August 28, September 25, September 29 and at a special meeting solely devoted to it on October 16 as well as the action taken on November 13th.

The entire staff and teachers were surveyed and 450 people responded, while interviews were conducted with key staff and community members. The media was informed. There was no intention to hide this process. I have had a meaningful and open dialogue with many parents and look forward to that continuing in the future."

“What else should we have done?” she asked us later.

A modest proposal for next time:

1-Put an item on the public portion of the agenda, at the beginning of the process, in which the board president makes a clear public statement that the board is starting its annual review of the superintendent, and that this process could result in his contract being extended, or not.

2-Schedule a public hearing in which members of the public can offer testimony about their view of the superintendent’s performance, positive, negative or neutral.

3-Invite written comments from the public, to expand those weighing in on the superintendent’s performance beyond a group of people who either are employed by the district or otherwise owe their livelihood to the good graces of district headquarters.

4-Include and use the public comments as an additional data point in completing the closed session performance review.

Just a thought.

The future lies ahead. Amid the fractured nature and reduced circumstances of Santa Barbara’s press corps, local news organizations, starting with Newsmakers, dropped the ball on this story.

We criticize ourselves severely.

The good news is that school board coverage is about to improve.

Molina will continue reporting on the school board, building on his work on the campaign, while the Indy has just assigned Blanca Garcia, their talented and smart bilingual staff reporter, to the education beat, allowing your septuagenarian, pajama-clad blogger to tuck in for a well-deserved nap.

Huzzahs, hurrah and to all a good night.

JR

* Capps's email statement inadvertently was omitted from an earlier version of this post.

Images: SBUSD logo; How reporters sometimes get stories; Cary Matsuoka; Deep in the weeds guy; Jackie Reid; Laura Capps; Blanca Garcia.


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