but no change, at Shoreline

David Briggs
Rhonda Kutter, the West Marin School Site Council president, applauded the dialogue that took place at this week’s school board meeting. But she questioned why the district was paying a consultant $9,500 to search for a new superintendent, instead of properly evaluating the current one, who has wide support.

The leadership for the Shoreline Unified School District remains in limbo as the board simultaneously pursues two distinct options for next year’s superintendent.

At a special meeting Tuesday at Tomales Elementary School, trustees formally commenced a search for a new superintendent, but also directed the board president, Jane Healy, to seek advice from the county about whether they could rescind their acceptance of Superintendent Tom Stubbs’s resignation, and if so, how to go about doing so.

In many respects, the special meeting mirrored the board’s gathering two weeks ago: nearly three dozen parents, teachers and concerned citizens once again resounded a unified outcry against the board’s decision not to renew Mr. Stubbs’s contract. But audience members commented on differences in the tenor of the meeting. 

After the Light warned trustees in writing that a closed session threatened to violate the Brown Act, the state’s open meetings law, the board chose not to recess to closed session. For the first time, trustees deliberated openly about flaws in the evaluation process, the possibility of offering Mr. Stubbs another year and increasing the position’s days to accommodate the demanding workload.

Mr. Stubbs’s was also noticeably absent from the meeting. “So, Tom was invited to the meeting?” Marc Matheson, an Inverness resident, asked after the flag salute. “Oh yes, of course,” Ms. Healy responded. “Do you know why Tom isn’t here?” Mr. Matheson asked. “I really can’t answer that,” Ms. Healy said. “I really don’t know.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Healy’s answer had changed. “Tom Stubbs had the option to attend last night’s meeting,” she wrote in an email to the Light. “He and I decided it would be awkward.”

From the outset of the meeting, Ms. Healy tried to start the presentation from Scott Mahoney, an independent contractor who had recently assisted in the superintendent search for Lagunitas and Bolinas-Stinson school districts and offered his consulting services for a flat $9,500 rate, plus expenses. However, before Mr. Mahoney began, trustee Kegan Stedwell suggested hearing public comments.

A series of parents and teachers asked the board to reconsider. After Heidi Koenig, the parent of a fifth grader at West Marin School, read a statement commending Mr. Stubbs for his leadership, the entire audience—except Mr. Mahoney—stood up in support of the board rescinding their decision. Not a single audience member spoke against Mr. Stubbs.

“We need you to hear our voices. … We are not a peanut gallery. We’re your constituents. We know what we want for our school,” said Donna Faure, the president of the West Marin-Inverness School P.T.S.A. “When my child makes a mistake, or when I make a mistake, I own up to it and I reverse my decisions sometimes. And I think that would be the best thing for you to do.

In analyzing the sequence of events, one parent questioned which was worse: the board being taken by surprise to find so much for support for Mr. Stubbs, or the board ignoring those widespread protests and moving forward anyway.

“I think that there’s also some power struggles within the employees in the district. I think that’s one issue the board should be focusing on, rather than looking for a new superintendent,” Madeline Hope, a former board member, said. “I think you need to look at staff at the high school, I think you need to look at the administration, at the business office, at all of these different places in the district. I think there’s a lot not being said.”

Ms. Stedwell asked the board to pause before rushing into a search, which could lead to distrust and backlash against a replacement. “We’re nodding and listening, but not responding with enough thoughtfulness,” she said. “I’m concerned by the order of events for this item… I don’t actually think that it is completely irreversible or even decided. The way that [Mr. Stubbs] has touched our school community is now becoming more clear to me personally as a board member.” The process should be reviewed to add more points and more stakeholder input, Ms. Stedwell added. “A number of us noticed that it felt very narrow and out of date.”

An audience member asked if the board was prevented from rescinding their decision by anything other than their own choice. “I think we have to leave that as a rhetorical question,” Ms. Healy said. “If we want to make a change, we would have to ask him,” Ms. Manning-Sartori added.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Stubbs told the Light he would eagerly rescind his resignation if the board offered. He also said he had no plans to re-apply for the superintendent position during a new search. Teachers at West Marin School who met on Wednesday were in consensus that subjecting Mr. Stubbs to another search would be “humiliating,” said Sue Gonzalez, a reading intervention teacher.

“Well, Scott, I think you probably have valuable experience in just this kind of thing,” Ms. Healy said, once again trying to advance the presentation. “No one is going to force anything down anyone’s throat.” Ms. Healy tried to push Mr. Mahoney’s presentation six times during the meeting, most at awkward moments after uncomfortable questions or comments, like trustee Monique Moretti asking how to agendize rescinding Mr. Stubbs’s resignation. “This might be something that Scott would have answers,” Ms. Healy said in response to Ms. Moretti’s question. “I don’t feel like Scott is someone who’s going to railroad his services on us.”

When his turn finally came, Mr. Mahoney said he would meet with employees and parents in the coming week and would present his findings about desired priorities and personal attributes to the board by Wednesday morning. Interviews with finalists are scheduled for mid-June, with the board set to approve a contract by the June 26 regular meeting, a date they considered changing to fit legal requirements.

The board discussed tabling the item until next week to seek Mr. Stubbs’s input and legal counsel, but Ms. Manning-Sartori said pursuing both actions were not “mutually exclusive” and urged starting the search. She made clear that she did not want to hold another meeting to reconsider Mr. Stubbs’s contract because she felt the employees who complained before the board in closed session may not feel comfortable speaking publicly.

Parents and teachers urged a special meeting next week, but on Wednesday Ms. Healy said she consulted with county superintendent Mary Jane Burke about agendizing the item at the next regular meeting, on May 15 at the high school.

Rhonda Kutter, the president of the West Marin School Site Council, criticized the decision but asked Ms. Healy to promise a timeline and communicate throughout the school system.

“If that’s what’s recommended to us [by Ms. Burke],” Ms. Healy said. “I also have something very important that I have to say. I don’t know who brought the cookies and coffee. Was that you, Jane Realon?”