The toughest, most thankless job in Tuolumne County’s educational system?
Sadly, it belongs to Mike King, acting superintendent of the Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District.
After holding the top job at Sonora High School for 15 years, King, in retirement, has served as interim boss for 10 districts transitioning from one superintendent to another. So the 70-year-old administrator seemed like the right man for the job.
But things have been anything but smooth south of the river.
Board President Ian Morcott’s May, 2009, promise to “keep the problem solving high and emotion low” notwithstanding, cooperation and accommodation quickly disappeared from the district lexicon.
As the first anniversary of the total recall approaches, the Groveland board is in a state of disarray that makes its predecessors look stable in contrast. The slate of candidates who vowed during the campaign to clean house are now almost perennially split 3-2.
Trustees Gloria Marler and Mike Malloy have voted no on project audits, fund transfers, administrative reorganization, interim budgets and much more. Meanwhile, they have accused King of pursuing his own agenda at the expense of the public.
Which, in light of his temporary status and clean record at other districts he has managed, seems highly unlikely. Yet his motives have been questioned by students, teachers and, most recently, in a full-page ad put in a Groveland newspaper by Marler and Malloy.
“I came up here to help you guys when no one else would,” King has countered. “I’m here to help move the district forward.”
That three out of five board members — Morcott, Paul Spring and Lori West — have generally agreed with the interim superintendent has kept things moving forward. But that ended last week.
That’s when Marler and Malloy refused to sign a confidentiality agreement to keep the names of those who might apply to become BOFG’s full-time superintendent out of the public eye.
The move prompted a hired recruiting firm to quit midway through its search, leaving the district short a $6,000 deposit and with limited prospects for attracting a qualified superintendent.
“The potential for success is greatly lessened,” said King, adding that confidentiality agreements are for the “protection of applicants” and that he’s never seen a recruiting firm that did not require them.
The two dissenting board members have thus torpedoed the majority’s efforts to attract the best possible list of candidates for a district sorely in need of effective leadership. Although Marler and Malloy may try, it would be difficult to fault King for advocating a broad search — especially in light of low test scores at Tioga and Don Pedro high schools and the district’s disruptive past.
The two trustees favor Tioga High Principal Sandy Bradley for the job, and the majority has stressed that she is more than welcome to apply and be evaluated with other candidates.
So what’s next?
King says he’ll do his best to beat the bushes for candidates willing to accept possible public exposure, but admits he is pessimistic.
Recall, of course, is a possibility, and one that local voters are familiar with. But the last thing this district needs is another round of the drama that goes with it.
Resignations? Although facing a court hearing for allegedly harassing district employees, Malloy has refused to do so. And Marler, too, has no plans to leave.
Which leaves November’s regular elections, in which Morcott, Spring and Marler will face voters. It will amount to a referendum on policies advanced by the board majority and by its minority, and could determine the district’s direction for years to come. To say the outcome is important is an understatement.
As for the beleaguered King, he will leave his Groveland job on June 30. We congratulate him on his exemplary forbearance, and wish him a well-deserved rest.