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School Superintendents' appraisals tough to get from many districts.

Superintendents’ appraisals tough to get from many districts

By Christine Harvey, Cronkite News Service

Published: May 25, 2010 at 5:44 am

Taxpayers cover the salaries of superintendents in Arizona’s public school districts, but in many cases it’s difficult to learn exactly what governing boards think of superintendents’ work, a Cronkite News Service review found.

Out of dozens of school districts approached with public records requests, officials in about a third said they were unable to provide documentation of their superintendents’ latest performance appraisals. The reason: Those reviews were delivered behind closed doors in executive session.

David Cuillier, a University of Arizona assistant journalism professor who specializes in freedom of information issues, called it “ludicrous” for governing boards to conduct superintendents’ performance appraisals in private.

“That absolutely violates all of the principles of government accountability to the public,” said Cuillier, who serves as the national chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee. “You should not be hiding superintendent evaluations in executive session.”

State law allows public bodies to meet in executive session when discussing legal advice, the sale or lease of property, labor negotiations and personnel matters including employment, assignment, appointment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, salaries, discipline or resignations.

Dan Barr, a media attorney who represented the East Valley Tribune in two successful lawsuits when Scottsdale refused to release a city manager’s self-evaluation and a former police officer’s performance reviews, said that appraisals for superintendents should be public record because they involve public officials. “They try to circumvent public review of these evaluations by making them verbal and thus there are no records of them,” he said.

Cronkite News Service reporters and students in reporting classes at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication submitted public records requests to 104 public school districts, each with about 1,000 or more students. The goal: obtaining the superintendent’s salary and copies of his or her contract and latest performance appraisal.

While each district provided a salary and all but one provided a copy of its superintendent’s contract, officials with 34 districts said they were unable to provide documentation of a performance appraisal because it was delivered in executive session. Reporters received 54 written evaluations, and most of the remaining districts reported having new superintendents who had yet to be evaluated.

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Comment by Harry Mathews on May 27, 2010 at 6:48am
Great article! Investigative journalists actually doing investigative journalism. What a concept! I wish they would change the name of the school though. Cronkite was such a Lefty-loo.


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