Palm Beach County School Board still out of control

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Palm Beach County School Board now wants to fire another superintendent. Can anyone please this board? In criticizing the superintendent’s leadership and communication in his recent evaluation, it was clear some board members would not know leadership if it smacked them between the eyes.

The School Board is dysfunctional by its own admission, which includes a failure to understand its limited role. With micromanagement and arrogance, the board has used its legislative powers to steamroll over the executive powers of the superintendent and staff.

wayne Gent
Wayne Gent
photo credit: Bocamag.com

For example, board member Frank Barbieri was unnecessarily harsh in his evaluation of Superintendent Wayne Gent, only because he did not get his way in a recent request, forgetting that no board member has the authority to give such direction. Fellow board member Marsha Andrews chastised Gent for not doing what she wanted in selecting a certain principal, knowing full well that the superintendent has statutory authority over personnel decisions. Then board member Jenny Brown joined the attack, announcing her revelation that the district has experienced superior academic performance — in spite of the superintendent’s leadership, not because of it.  As an encore, Brown suggested that the board fire Gent.

This just little over a year after the board handpicked Gent during an extensive national search. There is little doubt that the board has no idea the degree to which its behavior dispirits morale and creates a public perception of incompetency. Nor does the board see that any district success has come in spite of its overzealous interference.

From their election, board members wanted control. But in governance, a board in control is a board out of control. Even more problematic, Barbieri has always coveted the chairman post. Board members’ pandering to constituents and furthering personal agendas continue to undermine leadership and staff. Add in the bullying, temper tantrums and profanity, and the board’s behavior is completely intolerable at times. In fact, when the media recently reported about the board’s dissatisfaction with the superintendent, the coverage showed the real problem:  The board is very unhappy with itself.

The School Board’s sole statutory responsibility is to set policy and hire three employees: the superintendent, attorney and auditor. Ideally, however, the board’s people skills should include showing statesmanship, creating a trusting environment and providing civil governance. To date, little more than lip service has been offered.

Former Interim Superintendent Bill Malone’s parting words to the School Board were clear: “Why do you continuously insert your opinion for the professional judgment of the staff?” Great question, if only the board would take heed. Perhaps the only real solution is to replace the offending board members in the upcoming election with individuals who can control themselves and empower the superintendent and staff to improve our students’ education.

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