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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Special Commentary: Enterprise Editorial Paints An Overly Rosy Picture of Superintendent Murphy's Legacy

Sunday's editorial by the Davis Enterprise, illustrates a fundamental problem with the reporting of the Enterprise--it fundamentally fails to hold public establishment officials accountable for their actions. The most concerning part of the positive editorial is that in fact, the editorial staff acknowledged the financial scandals in the schools and still wrote a very glowing piece on former Superintendent of Schools David Murphy. Do the residents of Davis who sent their kids to school and be educated in this school district deserve better than this whitewashing of what is now bordering on multiple incidents of what can only reasonably be described as sheer incompetence?

After all, we are talking in David Murphy about a person that the Davis Joint Unified School District is paying not to work, while they have hired another person to work. So why is his departure a big loss for the Davis community as the Davis Enterprise boldly states?

The Enterprise describes his strength on the academic side, "where he distinguished himself first as an innovative principal of Davis High School and then as a visionary superintendent who never lost sight of his goal: What's best for the students of Davis?"

Oh did he now? There have been longstanding complaints against Murphy for the failure to appropriately deal with issues of harassment, bullying, and racism on campus. In fact, those complaints stem back to his days as Davis High School Principal and the killing of a student, Thong Hy Huynh.

But it is more than that. There has been an utter failure to meet the needs of minority students--particularly the African-American students. The most recent incident being the resignation of Courtenay Tessler who was the adviser to the students of the Black Students Union. This was a devastating blow to the students in this organization, who relied on Ms. Tessler help and advice to them. By all accounts this was a devoted person and resource to many students in the high school.

The larger problem has been the lack of minority hires in this district. This problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the leadership and the Superintendent's office. The previous Superintendent was largely seen as a hindrance to the efforts of many to have a more diverse teaching staff in the district.

Perhaps the strangest part of the editorial however was the end where it talked about "rocky times... particularly with regard to facilities." The closing reads: "Ultimately, those issues cast a shadow over his shining record, and led the Board of Education to lose faith in him. What a loss his retirement is for the Davis community. We'll truly miss David Murphy."

I simply do not understand this sentiment. What an insult that is to the elected school board. Cast a shadow? More like eclipse the sun. We are talking about numerous and severe financial and conflict of interest problems that have literally plagued the district for the last several years.

This has been a tumultuous year for the school district with a number of different financial scandals. In November of 2006, the board halted construction on a new King High School building. Allegations were made at that time by Board Member Jim Provenza that "shoddy practices in the business office have cost us" money on the project. He further said, "I'm happy we have a new chief budget officer (Colby) and (we're) cleaning up the mess we've had in the past.

Earlier this month the project was re-approved with money from redevelopment funds. Board member Tim Taylor cast the lone, "no" vote and he too made allegations about irregularities in board money use. "For me, the issue is some financially funky stuff that's gone on to get us to this point. It has absolutely nothing to do with King High."

In addition there has been several recent financial irregularities particularly involving King High and also concerning the former deputy superintendent for business Tahir Ahad who founded an educational consulting firm while employed with the DJUSD. He in turn recruited many fellow district employees to join him at the firm all the while everyone of them continued their full time employment with the district. This "moonlighting" by senior and middle management district employees resulted in them not doing their district jobs full time yet they received full time pay.

Furthermore, the former deputy superintendent for business Tahir Ahad was allowed to do much of his district work from his home office where he actually focused most of his time on his start-up business resulting in shoddy work product for the district and causing it to lose grant monies in the millions of dollars. The new school board put an end to this and has pushed for a new and comprehensive conflict of interest code to prevent this type of conduct from ever occurring again.

It is clear that there were multiple problems in the school district many of which were the result of David Murphy, his hires, and his policies. The new school board should be the ones commended for having the fortitude and foresight to make the tough changes that will ultimately produce a better product.

If David Murphy has led the district to better academics--in a community as well-educated as Davis--I would suggest that a replacement can do so as well without the financial fiascos, without the hiring problems, without the harassment problems, without so many other problems that the public really is not aware of because unfortunately the process is veiled behind a wall of confidentiality that protects personnel from public disclosure.

I would suggest that the Davis Enterprise view this as is akin to an iceberg. We can see the tip of the problems but we cannot view their full damage. We do not know what lies beneath the surface, but we do know it was bad enough that the district was willing to swallow over $13,000 per month on an individual who is no longer employed by the school district. That alone should tell the public what they need to know and that we should not be honoring and defending this man's record.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting