Pinellas board 'demotes' Ovalle to principal
If the findings in an internal Pinellas school district investigation are accurate, employee Rob Ovalle (left) violated several district policies as he assisted former assistant superintendent Carol Thomas in the development of a pilot program to help make classroom "walk-through" evaluations easier for administrators to perform.
The investigation determined that Thomas created the product on work time and using district resources but intended to personally profit from its development by securing copyright privileges from the school district. It also held that Ovalle knew of the plans but said nothing to the board when members raised questions about the product in his presence.
Thomas, a 31-year district veteran, retired amidst the flap and challenged the report's conclusions in a three-page letter.
On Tuesday, the board had to decide what should become of Ovalle, director of elementary education.
Superintendent Julie Janssen asked board members to approve moving him from his district office position to principal at New Heights Elementary, where he would retain his $70,908 salary.
Board members approved the measure 5-2, but not without lengthy discussion.
They repeatedly characterized the move as a "demotion" for Ovalle despite his salary continuation. And several members -- chiefly Robin Wikle, Linda Lerner and Terry Krassner -- indicated approving the job change left them with a bad taste in their mouths, but each for different reasons:
- Wikle questioned Janssen's rationale for moving Ovalle into another leadership position if the internal report cited him for possible violation of six school board policies. Janssen responded that she believes Ovalle's actions did not rise to the same level of concern as did Thomas's because of the influence Thomas had over him due to the nature of their mentor-mentee relationship: "We thought perhaps his thinking could have been influenced by that relationship of teacher-student," Janssen replied.
- Lerner stated she felt Ovalle was being unfairly demoted when much of the blame for the situation lies with Janssen for asking the board to approve relinquishing copyright to Thomas to begin with. "I think Dr. Janssen has many, many very good qualities," Lerner said. "But in this case, I think she was wrong. And Mr. Ovalle took the fallout."
- Krassner, a former principal, said she felt Ovalle would be better to stay in his district position or to be put in a temporary assignment than to move back to a school site where he will be in a position of leadership over an entire school community. "Being a past principal and knowing that Mr. Ovalle was a past principal, I do feel like you’re totally responsible for who you are," she said. "Being a leader is huge and I can just hear the families' response to that."
Sami Scott, a board watcher and vocal critic of Janssen's, asked the board to reject Janssen's request. "That is not a leader," she said of Ovalle after citing the investigation's description of his actions. "That is a person that has brought disgrace to you and the district. And if I were a parent at New Heights, I would be looking for a quality individual with integrity."
The discussion died down a bit after board attorney Jim Robinson told members that, legally, their job was to determine only whether the person Janssen recommended for the position was qualified for the job. In other words, the only reason they could reject Ovalle's move was if he didn't mean the stated qualifications for the position.
Lerner responded that she would have to support the measure because her hands were tied.
When the vote came, only Krassner and Wikle dissented.