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.
Last August, King took the helm of the district, whose entire board had
been replaced in a contentious recall election in May. His job,
presumably, was to guide the reform-minded rookie trustees in putting
the district on the right track, while the search for a permanent
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
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.