Friday, October 26, 2012

Why I can't support Roger Parent's re-election

Don Wheeler
I have more than a little respect for Roger Parent.  Roger has attracted resources to the South Bend Community School Corporation via his connections.  It's not a known whether they would have been available otherwise.  I credit him for making things happen in any case.  I am also in complete agreement with his observations published in today's paper  and I'm glad he wrote about the situation.  I support action to review the conduct of Bill Snaidecki - who has caused enormous trouble, tumult, and expense. There are probably some other ways Roger has been helpful that I don't recall right off as well.

I have contact with some current and past Board members, some familiarity of recent history, and of course follow relevant events and issues in the press.   All these inform my perspective.  So here's what I don't like.

For starters, Roger raised and spent $37,000 for an unpaid position when he ran in the gang of 15 last time.  I'm pretty sure that was well in excess of what all of the rest of us spent, combined.  Not damning by any means but something of a red flag to me.

Prior to that election the Board (after some pretty tough sessions) narrowly decided to launch a nationwide search for a permanent Superintendent to replace the recently terminated Robert Zimmerman.  James Kapsa had been named interim in the meantime.

Despite the fact that the search could have been funded without touching the school corporation budget, candidate Parent insisted that Kapsa should be named the permanent Superintendent.  My position (especially considering Mr. Kapsa had no prior experience as Superintendent) was that he should be invited to apply.  But considering the pain and tumult which occurred over the dismissal of Dr. Zimmerman, the community needed a fresh start with someone experienced in the process of major overhaul of a school district.

Parent and Stephanie Spivey won the election and the (partially lame-duck) Board decided to consult the Trustees-elect on the matter.  Ms. Spivey had been clear and vocal during the campaign that what was needed was "a turnaround expert" in the position.  She confirmed to me that her view had not changed as we walked into the SBCSC building together.  We parted company, she to an Executive Session Board meeting and I to the gallery.

The report of the ESB meeting was a motion to permanently appoint Mr. Kapsa to the position - effectively reversing the earlier decision.  And imagine my surprise when Stephanie rose to speak in favor of the motion - though not all that convincingly.  In fact, of all speakers I was the only one to voice opposition - suggesting that the original course was the wiser one.  That prompted Trustee Ralph P. to comment that he admired my courage.  It wasn't much fun, that's for sure.

Naturally I felt a bit blind sided by Stephanie.  When I asked her about it later, she muttered something about being steamrollered.  I didn't press for details and she didn't offer.

So Parent pretty much made this all happen.  But the honeymoon didn't last with Kapsa - for whatever reason.  From what I heard and observed, Parent made things difficult for Kapsa, eventually causing him to "retire".  (I've heard it put more harshly).  Two years later we were back where we started from - looking for a Superintendent.

Parent's conduct at the early meetings could be characterized as self-important and petulant.  He even offered for President at the very first meeting he sat in.  He was narrowly defeated by sitting President Sheila Bergeron. 

That observation may strike you as petty, but it then set the scene for a continuation of all that the community loathed about their school board.  There was already one self important and petulant member (Snaidecki), and it seemed clear that there would be no end to the plague of factions.

Puzzlingly, about a year into his term, Parent penned something of a manifesto of what had and hadn't been accomplished.  This was published in the Tribune.  What was striking about it in my recollection was that there were 23 instances of the words "I" and "me" and zero (or at least nearly zero) or the words "we" and "us'.  It almost seemed a plea for re-election.  But he wasn't up for election.

Then there was the instance when he was so adamant about the New Tech High School program, that he threatened to start his own charter version if the program wasn't adopted by the SBCSC Board.  This was reported by the Tribune and occurred in open session of the Board.  The program clearly has merit, but that was a pretty crummy way to behave.  But he got his way.

Fast forward to present day.  Bill Snaidecki goes to the press, charging the Board has met illegally. I could fill many pages covering what is wrong with this action and catalogue other transgression on Snaidecki's part.  If I were a fellow Board member, I would not have taken this lightly.

But what does Roger (and Michelle Engel) do?  They also go to the press.  But they don't just say that Snaidecki is wrong - and that the Board will need to come to an understanding about this.  They say that Snaidecki must apologize and resign as Vice President.

No one who knows anything about the man would have believed that would happen.  And it didn't.  So back to the press goes Roger announcing what he surely intended from the beginning - a motion of censure.  And he's dragged the Superintendent into this mess as well.  He wasn't able to achieve enough support to cause this action to happen prior to election, so its scheduled shortly after. 

I couldn't believe it, so I wrote the Tribune expressing my frustration and exasperation. 

I have no doubt that Roger Parent deeply wants the children of our community to thrive.  None at all.  But individuals who are intensely self-absorbed and filled with certitude ride roughshod over others and often get in the way of their own stated goals. 

The community is fatigued by the drama and intrigue their school board has provided over the years.  There's a reason Dawn Jones has been unopposed the last two times she's stood for election.  The same reason Jay Capanigro is so highly respected.

So though I know Roger Parent has much to offer our community, I cannot support his re-election.

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