Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino is recommending a double standard for district employees. Less than three weeks after the district notified 470 employees, including 315 teachers, of their pending layoffs, Fiorentino suggested the district retain a former school principal, who washed out of her last job at Cypress Elementary, as a grant resource specialist.
The appointment of Deanna DeCubellis to her new post is contained in a 162-page list of current employees scheduled to be approved for rehiring. The recommendation is to be considered by the School Board Tuesday.
Under most circumstances, it's appropriate to allow an employee a chance to rehabilitate his or her career. But the timing makes this move look suspect. Pushing hundreds of highly regarded people out the door solely for budgetary reasons while giving preferential treatment to a failed (and higher compensated) school-based administrator is unfair.
The move looks particularly egregious because the specialist's job duties require many of the skills that the district found missing in DeCubellis' performance as a principal.
The requirements for a grant resource specialist include skills in written and oral communications, planning and organization, knowledge to interpret and follow applicable laws and having the ability to work collaboratively with others. The district removed DeCubellis from her post at Cypress Elementary in April after teacher complaints and an onsite administrative visit in January revealed she had disbanded school-improvement committees, failed to complete safety drills, required employees to volunteer for after-hours duties and even took the door off the teachers' lounge to silence faculty conversations.
The district gave her three months to demonstrate improved leadership skills and to rebuild trust with the staff. By April, just after her first anniversary at the school, DeCubellis transferred to a "principal on assignment'' position in the curriculum department until her contract expires June 30.
Fiorentino defended the move, saying DeCubellis thrived previously as a grant resource specialist, is accepting a salary reduction and no longer will have significant management responsibilities that come with the principal's job. She is filling a post two other people have turned down and if DeCubellis fails in this assignment, she won't be retained, the superintendent said.
"I have to look at the individual's strengths and sometimes we have people in the wrong seats on the bus, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be on the bus,'' she said.
It's a sound philosophy, but hundreds of people just got asked to leave the bus through no fault of their own. Providing a landing spot for the under-performing brass while the budget forces transfers and unemployment on the front-line faculty and staff shows the rules can be different depending on your pay grade.
The district's employees, all 9,200 who remain, deserve equal treatment.