Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Let Pasco School Board select social studies textbooks

Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino is taking a mulligan. Good thing because in her own words, the procedures the district uses to buy textbooks "definitely have to be fixed.'' That is an understatement and the brouhaha over selecting the social studies textbooks for elementary schools is an embarrassing illustration.

The problem surfaced last week when a vendor and some teachers objected after learning the superintendent planned to overrule the employees' recommended publisher. Fiorentino later retreated and now will reconvene the committee. It would have been wiser to send the matter directly to the school board absent any recommendation.

There are plenty of diverse opinions. In an employee survey ranking three publishers, elementary teachers selected McGraw-Hill as their top choice with Pearson a close second. TCI finished third. However, an employee committee charged with building consensus and making a recommendation to the superintendent favored TCI.

Instead of passing that through to the School Board, Fiorentino and her top staff overruled the employee committee and planned to recommend the $850,000 purchase go to McGraw-Hill. They said TCI's focus on technology couldn't be supported at some district schools and McGraw-Hill's books do a better job of highlighting national teaching standards. Fiorentino also said assistant superintendent David Scanga left the room during the discussions because of his personal relationship with a McGraw-Hill employee.

The rationale is problematic and among the questions that should be answered are:

• Why include a vendor if its technology-heavy teaching materials can't be used effectively in schools with antiquated or insufficient computer capabilities?

• Why include a so-called consensus-building process if the end result can be vetoed by the superintendent? It effectively wastes the time and energy of the employees who helped recommend the textbooks to be purchased.

• Why invite suspicions of favoritism by allowing the participation of a company whose representative is a former district supervisor dating the assistant superintendent?

And, finally, why go back to the same employees for an all-or-nothing vote on picking a textbook provider when the committee had already made its recommendation?

In effect, Fiorentino will tell the committee members why they were wrong and why she and her top-level administrators were right. That is not consensus. That is top-down management that disenfranchises the very people whose opinions the administration supposedly values so much.

The selection process already is tainted. Fiorentino should skip her own pitch to the employee committee and simply send the decision to the School Board.

There is substantial data for the board to consider, including employee surveys, committee recommendations, extensive pro and con lists and Fiorentino's original sentiment that she pulled from board consideration before Tuesday's meeting.

The proposed recommendation fell apart when TCI representatives and members of the employee committee complained publicly. TCI appeared before the board Tuesday morning to reiterate their sentiments, pointing out that the company ranked highest according to the district's own selection procedure.

Except the procedure is flawed. Reassembling the committee to hear Fiorentino's logic and then asking for an anonymous online recommendation won't rebuild faith in the selection process nor in the superintendent's leadership on this issue.

The public will be better served by letting the Pasco School Board decide.

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