Saturday, May 28, 2011

Finally - good to go

Dr. Patton
Dr. Kamela Patton will be sworn in as superintendent of the Collier County Public Schools on Wednesday, and I plan to be there to show my support. 

Looking back on the past few months’ superintendent search process, I am generally pleased and impressed.  The search firm did a good job of finding and presenting a well-qualified and diverse slate of candidates.  The final choice – between Collier County’s current School Board Chief Operational Officer Michele LaBute and Kamela Patton, region administrative director for the Miami-Dade Schools - was a tough one.   

But I have to say that I’m really annoyed at how the local media reported on the contract discussions.  It took an ordinary occurrence – negotiation of a multi-year, six-figure employment contract – and made it into something somehow scandalous and sensational.

I debated about writing about it.  But if we consumers of the “news” don’t speak out when the media does us a disservice, how will they know we expect better?  So here goes.

You’ll recall that the Board unanimously chose Dr. Patton at its April 20 meeting.  I wrote about Dr. Patton in posts on May 5 (“Working for us already!”) and April 24 (“Dr. Kamela Patton: Recommended by a star”)   In fact, there was a bit of a local love-fest among community leaders in support of Dr. Patton for a few weeks.  

But then the muckraking started.  First came a Naples Daily News article on May 16: “Contract negotiations with new Collier schools superintendent hit snag.”

Translation: Dr. Patton and her attorney didn’t simply agree to the Board’s proposed contract.

Next came “Collier School Board's Pat Carroll says changes to superintendent contract could be deal-breaker.”  (Seriously??)

If you’re interested in following the chain of reports that followed, you can read the NDN coverage here.

I wrote each of the Board members the morning of the May 19 Board meeting to discuss Patton’s requests to let them know what I thought about them:

Dear Board Members:
In my opinion, Dr. Patton's requests as reported in today's paper are entirely reasonable and I urge you to accept them without debate.  Think how much less she will be costing the District than Dr Thompson did, and how much more we all believe she will accomplish!  Don't let a few thousand dollars delay her start date -- or worse, cause us to lose her, as the NDN reported Mrs. Carroll said.  That would, in my opinion, be penny-wise and pound foolish. 
I also urge you to resolve this today. Don't allow it to go on and give the Daily News yet another opportunity to turn this into something it isn't in order to sell papers.  And PLEASE stop speaking to reporters and Jeff Lytle about this until there is a done deal. It is like negotiating in public, which rarely if ever ends well.
I attended the Board meeting that afternoon, as did several community leaders I know.  It was one of those times I wished Florida’s Sunshine Laws didn’t require contract negotiations to take place in public.  I found some of the discussion to be down-right embarrassing, and wondered if Dr. Patton was watching the meeting online and if so what she was thinking.

As I watched the meeting, I realized that the Board members had not been given the information they needed to objectively evaluate Patton’s requests – namely, the dollar cost to the District of each.  That information should have been made available, either by one of the attorneys or the District’s HR team.  In corporate America, even an employment contract for much less money would never have been negotiated in a fiscal vacuum the way this one was.

Of course despite the drama and suspense fueled by the media, the Board and Dr. Patton ultimately reached agreement ("Collier School Board compromises on some superintendent contract changes"). 

Here’s what I emailed the Board members after the meeting:
Based on what I heard, it's my understanding that the two extra vacations days might cost the district $800/year if one of them (50%) is paid in cash.  And the difference in the travel allowance between the $750/month Dr. Patton requested and the $500/month the Board offered is $250 x 12 = $3,000/year.

I appreciate that the Board deliberated and discussed as it did, but I am dismayed that for the sake of what ultimately amounted to $3,800, a hostile tone was set for Dr. Patton...

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe the process could have been handled more smoothly if an appropriate HR person had priced out the contract provisions in dispute and provided that information to the Board ahead of time.  Then you would have had a framework: were you talking about $5,000? $10,000?  You would have been in a better position to evaluate Dr. Patton's requests and know when something was big enough to fight about.
In any case, it’s done.  The contract has been signed, and reports are that Dr. Patton can’t wait to get started. 

“We’re good to go,” Patton said Thursday. “I’m so very ready to go.” 

I’m looking forward to the swearing-in and public reception to follow, Wednesday starting at 4:30 PM in the Administration Building. 

6 comments:

  1. Thanks Sandy. Well done. PK

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  2. SPOT-ON SANDY. SHAMEFUL BEHAVIOR BY THE BOARD AND NDN. GOOD FOR YOU.

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  3. Your analysis and criticism of NDN is spot on.

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  4. So well put, Sandy. John and I were both really annoyed with the NDN coverage and the way they made Patton sound greedy. Also surprised the search firm didn't better handle this portion.

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  5. It certainly sounds like Patton will be good for the district and that there's an initial good relationship between her and the entire school board. All augurs well, I think.

    It's possible that the board will have a good lesson from your suggestion that an HR person price the suggested contract changes as soon as they are proposed.

    I do not agree that the role of the NDN or the influence of the sunshine law has been deleterious. No law can be perfect, and we're better off having the details you mention in the sunshine than we are having even more important aspects of governmental agreements and machinations in the dark. The newspaper does best what it does when it exposes (or reports on) as much as possible (with some few exceptions such as the gory details of a crime or the identity of a rape victim, etc.). I don't think the NDN coverage could hurt the Patton-board relationship if that relationship is as good as every source seems to indicate. The headlines of a news story are something else, but are to be re-evaluated by any responsible reader as he or she reads the article. Of course, in negotiations, any proposed contract term could be a "deal breaker." It's not irresponsible to report that.

    Thanks for the intelligence and thoroughness of the Soapbox!

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  6. Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share your thoughtful comments.

    @RW: Re: your last paragraph, I agree that the NDN hasn't adversely affected the Board/Patton relationship; what I fear it has done is created an atmosphere for anger and crazy commenting by members of the community. For example, [take a look at the] comments posted online in response to the article "Collier School Board compromises on some superintendent contract changes:"
    http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2011/may/19/collier-school-board-compromises-some-superintende/

    I firmly believe the NDN is out to sensationalize headlines to sell papers, with less interest in conveying in an unbiased manner the actual situation. A la New York Post, etc.

    Re: the Sunshine Laws - Yes, sunshine is better than smoke-filled rooms, but my understanding is that Florida's sunshine laws are MUCH more restrictive than those in most states. (And it's ironic that they apply to local government officials, but NOT to the state legislators who passed them!)

    Again - thanks for taking the time to write - I really appreciate knowing someone is out there reading what I write!

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