The Tucson Unified School District has burned through five superintendents over the past 10 years. Administrative serial monogamy like this creates instability for the people it is intended to serve - children - and the constant state of flux erodes confidence in an organization of tremendous importance to our community.
John Pedicone is the latest superintendent to announce an early exit from TUSD. Wednesday he said he will leave June 30, a year before his contract runs out. The Governing Board learned of it on Tuesday.
Pedicone said from the start that he expected to be a short-timer as superintendent, yet he accepted a year's contract extension in August. The Governing Board seated two new members in January, and he wanted the board to have a chance to hire a superintendent before the election season in 2014.
Pedicone and board President Adelita Grijalva were uniform in saying that board members did not seek his resignation, and that he was not leaving in frustration, but the undercurrent was clear: the historic relationship between the board and the superintendent has been problematic.
The cast of characters has changed over the years, but the churn has remained the same.
Pedicone took pains to say he wasn't speaking about the current TUSD board, or any particular board, but that no organization can function optimally when Governing Board members overstep their proper policy-setting role and interfere with district operations. This has been a tradition in TUSD. It's hard to pinpoint if superintendents have been undercut and stymied by that interference, or if a lack of continuity at the top has allowed that to flourish. It's likely both.
But we have seen a parade of smart people take the TUSD superintendency and within a couple of years they're gone - overtly pushed out by conflicts with the board majority or leaving for greener pastures elsewhere.
The result is the same. Reforms and educational efforts are knocked off track as everyone understandably waits for the next superintendent. Grand hopes and praise are flourished upon the incoming leader, but we all know the inevitable disenchantment and resistance are coming.
Pedicone's resignation is not a victory for anyone in TUSD, least of all students. It's a telltale sign that the largest school district in our community is deeply dysfunctional and that erosion from within comes at a price in public confidence. The good work being done each day in classrooms across the district is overshadowed by politics, finger-pointing and the entrenched inertia that makes TUSD the Sisyphus of public school districts.
Each Governing Board member bears responsibility. The public should not expect, nor accept, elected officials who parrot an administration for the sake of going along to get along. Veteran members must change their ways and exercise restraint and temperance, while new members should set a wise course for themselves.
An example of the disconnect is the announcement from Grijalva that TUSD will begin an immediate national search for a new superintendent. The Governing Board has not taken a public vote on the matter. Making an announcement, albeit in response to a legitimate question, without a public discussion and vote is premature.
The best course of action may be to do an immediate national search, rather than try to find someone to fill in for a while, but that's a decision for the whole board, not one member.
The students in TUSD deserve consistent leadership so the community focus can return rightly to their futures, rather than worrying about who is sitting in the head office.
Arizona Daily Star