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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Was Superintendent David Murphy Fired?

On Thursday evening, Davis Joint Unified School District Superintendent David Murphy announced his retirement.

Reading from a prepared statement:
“Since February 1, when I turned 60, my wife Robbie and I have been discussing what would be best for our family and with our life... It is now an appropriate time for me to conclude a wonderful era of 35 years of public service and spend more time with my family while we are all healthy and happy.”
While he intends to retire on July 31, 2007, he announced that the Board of Education would appoint an interim superintendent now and he would immediately hand over all his responsibilities.

The speculation is now flying around the community that Murphy was forced out rather than voluntarily retiring.

Said former school board member Joan Sallee in the Davis Enterprise:
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Murphy’s retirement. ... I am very sorry that the current school board did not see fit to retain his services. The district has suffered a grievous loss, at a time when we can least afford it.”
That is very indicative that in fact this was not a voluntary retirement.

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."

Another scandal in the last year was the Total School Solutions scandal which led to the resignation of a number of administrators. Total Schools Solutions is a Fairfield-based firm run by Tahir Ahad, who served as deputy superintendent for business services for the Davis School District from 1999 through May. Employees who worked at Total School Solutions while at the same time working for the school district were perceived to have a conflict of interest and this led to new conflict of interest regulations within the school district requiring disclosure of other employers that school district employees work for. At one point, the employees at Total School Solutions were largely made up of administrators from Davis Joint Unified who were simultaneously on the both payrolls.

These are some of a long list of problems including the reemergence of the bullying and harassment issue nearly three years after a long and heated community meeting in 2004 where several hundred parents and students came forward at a Davis Human Relations Commission meeting held at the Veteran's Memorial Center, to press for changes in district policy on bullying and racism. Those incidents led to the creation of a part-time School Climate Coordinator position now held by Mel Lewis. Since then the district has come under fire in the Fischer anti-gay harassment case and another similar case that has resulted in two law suits against the school. The district has now tightened up its disciplinary code.

Most recently we have the controversy involved with the potential closing of Valley Oak Elementary school and the recommendations handed down on Thursday by the Best Uses of Schools Task Force. That task force was appointed by the previous board. This is going to be another heated and tumultuous issue as the board now has to deal with that report and its fallout.

The previous board was fiercely loyal to Superintendent Murphy and his staff. In fact, on their way out, one of their last actions before new members Gina Daleiden, Tim Taylor, and Sheila Allen took over was to extend Murphy's contract until July 31, 2008, which had for all intents and purposes tied the hands of the new school board. Something that deeply upset several of the members of the current board.

However it now appears that they were able to find a way to get rid of Murphy. Joan Sallee's comment is informative because she was among the outgoing members that voted to extend his contract back in 2005.

The District has a tough task ahead. They need to hire a strong and competent new Superintendent who can effectively clean house of many of the other administrators who have become serious impediments toward furthering the educational system in Davis.

The public will unfortunately never know for sure why Superintendent Murphy has "retired," just as they will never know for sure why Jim Antonen was fired or Jim Hyde was fired. This is unfortunate. The laws protecting personnel confidentiality make sense when we are dealing with rank and file employees. When we are dealing with individuals in the command structure such as Police Chief, Superintendent, or City Manager, those laws make less sense. There is a strong and compelling public interest to know why such high ranking and highly paid public officials have lost their jobs. Transparency in government demands it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting