Wikle: "Absence of trust" with Janssen
Pinellas school board member Robin Wikle, usually polite to a fault in public, pointedly said in a meeting today there was an "absence of trust" with Superintendent Julie Janssen. She also told deputy superintendent Jim Madden he was making excuses when he responded to pitches for more direct communication between board members and Janssen.
Both comments came during today's board "retreat" (essentially a workshop at the headquarters of Kane's Furniture), during a broad discussion that touched on everything from the roles of the board and superintendent to communication issues and getting more information in a timely manner.
Wikle did not say during the meeting what issues led her to make the first statement, and declined to be more specific when asked by The Gradebook. "The superintendent and I are working on a trust level as far as data and programs," she said in a brief interview. "I believe the district needs to work on transparency so the community will trust us, the data we give out."
During the meeting, Wikle also said trust works both ways, and that sometimes Janssen may be led to believe board members are supportive of a program or initiative when they're not.
Janssen's response: She said the board needs to consider what the district has been through in recent years, with huge budget cuts and tough mandates. She also suggested statements like Wikles - "blanket statements about making decisions behind closed doors, or the data pieces aren't accurate, or there's no trust" - aren't helpful.
"If we truly go back and think about what's happened in the past two or three years, we're in a time of significant strife," she told board members. "We're having to seriously figure out ways to protect public education ... Yet the mandates keep coming. The demands keep coming. And so there are times our team feels like they're in a pressure pot."
She continued: "And then to be criticized by our board members to the point where some administrators come and say, 'very leading questions are being asked and I am responding and I'm worried that what I'm saying has been taken out of context,' those things don't help."
Later, after board members suggested ways they might be able to communicate more often and more directly with Janssen, Madden rose to her defense: "She works 24/7," he said. "She can't do an effective job if that's what the expectation is ... There is a reasonable number of hours that somebody should be expected to work and be effective."
Madden went on to list working in the office until 7 or 8, then being on the phone until 11, then coming in on Sundays. "At some point, it's 'all right, beat me,' " he said.
After a couple of other board members responded, Wikle weighed in: "I think you just gave excuses," she told Madden.
"It's time management," she continued. "I want you to have that time, that family time. So maybe we need to look at this district and see if we need to give you some support."