The San Diego Unified school board approved a proposal Tuesday night to hire an outside group to help craft evaluation criteria and procedures for school principals, despite complaints about its cost and objections from the principals association.

The proposal to craft new ways to evaluate principals gained more poignancy on the heels of a San Diego Unified report that found the district delinquent in evaluating its principals and administrators. Evaluating staffers has proved thorny in the past: San Diego Unified has twice fended off lawsuits in recent years about improper firings or evaluations of principals, said school board president Katherine Nakamura, who estimated that some administrators had not been evaluated in over a decade.

Superintendent Terry Grier attributed the problem to vague language in the school district agreement with principals that made it unclear how to evaluate principals without avoiding legal peril, and said those agreements need to be renegotiated. Grier said the $250,000 contract with a Colorado-based group would help solve the problem.

“In the long run, if you want us to hold principals accountable,” Grier said, “… there has to be a different instrument.”

Several stakeholders found the $250,000 contract objectionable in light of the budget crisis looming ahead for San Diego Unified. Administrators Association Executive Director Jeannie Steeg said that the amount was excessive, even though a new evaluation system was “desperately needed.” Her comments were echoed by school board member Shelia Jackson, who called the proposal “irresponsible” and insulting to district staffers who Jackson believed could do the same work at a lesser expense.

Grier countered that the firm was expert and the contract was worthwhile, saying, “This amount of money is a bargain.” He also reassured the board that he and the firm would work collaboratively with the Administrators Association to hash out a common agreement.

The report on principal evaluation was produced as part of the coherent governance system that the San Diego Unified school board adopted this year. That system became best known for a short provision that barred board members from publicly criticizing the superintendent or his staff, and Nakamura has lamented that the policy overshadowed the larger system of internal monitoring that included the periodic reports on how San Diego Unified is functioning — or malfunctioning.

“This coherent governance policy is really a roadmap to better accountability in our public schools,” said school board member Mitz Lee, noting that the human resources department identified its own deficiencies. “That to me is very courageous.”

Board members John de Beck and Jackson attempted to delay the motion, but were overruled.


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