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Action Fizzles On Superintendent Power

San Diego Unified trustees tabled a motion “affirming” the superintendent’s powers Tuesday night after a heated discussion about what the measure meant and whether it actually changed anything for California’s second-largest school district.

(You might remember this post [1] about the head-scratcher of a motion, which “affirms” the superintendent’s right to do just about anything to school district procedures short of dyeing them blue.)

The affirmation contained no concrete policy changes but was perceived by some as an assertion of Superintendent Terry Grier’s power. That’s a touchy issue: The line between the powers of the superintendent and the board has been contentious in the past [2], with both parties accusing each other of overstepping their role.

Both the teachers union and the administrators association were alarmed by the motion. Marc Capitelli, vice president of the teachers union, called it “an abdication of the board’s duty” and “a fateful step over an abyss that all of us should step back from,” while Administrators Association Executive Director Jeannie Steeg said that existing policies already empower the superintendent to change district procedures at any time. She cautioned that no procedure should be changed in violation of the state Education Code or employee contracts.

Their dismay was echoed by trustees Shelia Jackson, John de Beck and Luis Acle. Jackson compared the motion to “going from a first date to a marriage” with the superintendent, and both Acle and de Beck called it unnecessary.

Trustee Mitz Lee agreed the policy was already in place.

“What we’re trying to do is just reaffirm,” Lee said. “So what is wrong with saying, this policy exists?”

“If we don’t need to do it, why do it?” de Beck replied.

The school district’s legal counsel, Ted Buckley, said that the affirmation “isn’t designed to expand upon anything” and would have no effect on the existing policy that outlines the superintendent’s role. It’s “more of a statement of intention,” Buckley said.

And oddly, the superintendent himself was indifferent to the motion. Superintendent Terry Grier said he didn’t write the motion, didn’t place it on the agenda and didn’t need it to do his job effectively.

Yet school board President Katherine Nakamura defended the measure as “a courtesy” with “no heinous or mysterious purpose,” and worried that rejecting it would undermine the existing policy on the superintendent’s role — a worry that Buckley reassured her was unfounded.

After all that, the school board voted unanimously to table the motion.

EMILY ALPERT [3]