Guest Column: Consultant needs to set expectations between TUSD board and new superintendent
Gordon A. Bruno Special To The Arizona Daily Star
Tuesday, March 26, 2013 12:00 am

I am a retired public school superintendent, having served in this position in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Educating children well in urban settings has been a career-long personal priority and remains an unfulfilled accomplishment of school reform in part due to high turnover in large-city superintendents.

With Tucson's public school children in mind, I offer some advice regarding replacing Superintendent John Pedicone in the Tucson Unified School District.

First, in last Thursday's Arizona Daily Star editorial lamenting Tucson's "revolving door" of school superintendents, the view was right on target. Of all the reasons why superintendents exit their jobs early, Board of Education interference in the daily operation of school districts - micromanagement - ranks at the top of the list.

A school board's job is to set clear goals and policy, secure and maintain community confidence and support, provide necessary resources, and hold its superintendent accountable for measurable results. This role does not make the board a rubber stamp for the administration. To the contrary, it is a solemn recognition that policy-making and day-to-day management are different roles and must be respected for the school district to succeed.

Ideally, the roles are defined by contract between the board and superintendent, as well as in written policy. No individual on the school board has authority to conduct business or cause a superintendent to act except as one vote among the board as a whole.

Nor should the board attempt to perform management responsibilities, such as selecting district personnel. The board's job is to accept or reject the superintendent's recommendation to hire all staff, not to substitute his or her judgment about whom to hire. Nor, again, should special interests in the community expect otherwise from board candidates they elect.

I urge the TUSD board to seek professional help in its search for its next superintendent. There are many executive search consultants; the range in cost and quality is wide. I strongly suggest the board utilize the Arizona School Boards Association to conduct its search.

I recommend this nonprofit organization of 240 Arizona public school governing boards because of its considerable experience conducting such searches and its sensitivity to financial constraints faced by school districts.

There is another important reason, which speaks directly to Tucson's history of short-term leadership. Consultant help almost always ends with the selection of the new superintendent. I urge the TUSD board to arrange ongoing assistance from the Arizona School Boards Association after the search is over. The association's expertise would include establishing clear mutual expectations between the board and its new superintendent and conducting a review of current policies and practices, especially those affecting roles and responsibilities.

It could also help in formulating an entry plan with and for the new superintendent and providing ongoing support for the board and administration during the "honeymoon" period. The first months, and I would argue the first year, are critically important to the longer lasting, more productive relationship Tucson needs and deserves between its district office and the Governing Board.

Finally, I urge Dr. Pedicone to reconsider his departure timetable. I have trouble reconciling his concern for district stability when he plans to leave in June. This search will not be a quick one. Nor should it be. With due respect to his desire to leave the position, district stability, as well as a smooth transition, would be better served by his continued presence until and shortly after a successor is on the job.

As for the board, I urge it to offer more competitive compensation than that earned by Pedicone. Many of my most able colleagues who might otherwise be interested in Tucson are not likely to apply for the job at the current salary.

Gordon A. Bruno, a former superintendent of schools, and his wife have a second home in Tucson.