Advocate questions TPS transparency in Pecko contract talksWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Flagg, an education advocate who has followed Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and education issues for the past 17 years, has questioned the TPS Board of Education’s lack of transparency concerning its discussion of Superintendent Jerome Pecko’s job performance and Pecko’s letter to the board stating that he would not accept a contract extension after his current contract expires July 31.
In a Feb. 1 letter, Flagg told board members they have an obligation to justify their decision to the community they were elected to serve by making Pecko’s job evaluation public.
In an interview Feb. 6 after he released the letter to the media, Flagg said, “This goes to transparency and the fact that an evaluation is the board’s view into the operation of this district, how they see it performing and where they see the challenges.”
Flagg said Toledoans need to know the board’s perspective and vision for the district before they decide whether to vote for a renewal levy later this year.
Flagg also took exception to TPS Board President Brenda Hill’s comments published in The Blade where she was reported as saying she was legally “prohibited” from disclosing conversations held in a closed-door session.
Citing Ohio law, Flagg informed board members they are not legally required to disclose those conversations, but they are not legally prohibited from disclosing those conversations, as Hill said.
“I understand what he’s saying,” Hill said. “He’s trying to force me to say what happened in executive session. “Maybe I misspoke. According to the attorney, there is no legal obligation. I really thought it was more than that. What I said to the media I thought was right at the time I said it. And if it’s not correct, I stand corrected.
“I didn’t go to law school, so this is my personal opinion,” Hill said. “Executive session is there so that we can discuss employment or legal issues confidentially. And I am not going to get into a ‘he said, she said.’ ”
Hill said she feels the integrity of the board is at stake.
“We go into executive session so we can discuss freely what we need to discuss, and then we come back out and we make our decision,” Hill said. “All we do in executive session is discuss.
“I understand resigning because you do think about it often, and Dr. Pecko did say later that he had been thinking about it,” Hill said. “You think about it, and you’re going back and forth, and then it seems like one day there’s an inner voice that just says, ‘It’s time.’ And you do it.”
Board member Lisa Sobecki said she agrees with Hill’s observation about Pecko’s decision to not accept a contract renewal if one were to be offered.
“I fully understand what Ms. Hill said about Dr. Pecko’s decision to retire,” Sobecki said. “I don’t know what I’ll do when I get to that point, but I already know it’s not going to be an easy decision.”
Sobecki also took the same position as Hill regarding discussing what happens in executive session.
“I may not be legally prohibited from talking about that, but I don’t have to talk about that, and I don’t intend to talk about it,” Sobecki said.
Hill and Sobecki suggested that if board members did not feel secure that their discussions in executive session would remain confidential, they may not feel comfortable being honest with one another.
However, board member Larry Sykes said that before the board can go into executive session, it must announce the reason for the executive session, and that announcement dictates what can be discussed.
“If we go into executive session, we’re telling the public we’re going to discuss a potential lawsuit, the hiring or termination of employment or contracts. Talking freely has nothing to do with the damn purpose of the discussion that you went into executive session for.”
Sykes said he thinks Hill needs to make a clarification.
“You need at least three [votes to extend Pecko’s contract]. At this particular time, I am uncomfortable in making any comments. I do not lie about anything. It needs to be addressed at some point in time, and there needs to be a point of clarification.”
Board member Bob Vasquez did not confirm that the board discussed Pecko’s contract. Rather, he said, “We absolutely discussed Dr. Pecko’s job performance. We went into evaluate Dr. Pecko, and when we say we’re going to evaluate somebody, that’s exactly what we’re talking about.”
In response to Flagg’s concerns regarding the board’s lack of transparency, Sobecki said,“In my time on the board [six years], the Board has worked very hard at becoming more transparent in all of its business. Go to BoardDocs. You can see everything we do online. You can see every check we write and how much it is for.
“We even broadcast board meetings for a time. When we had to make budget cuts and decide whether to lay off an English teacher or to stop broadcasting board meetings, we kept the teacher and cut the broadcast. If we ever have the money and could go back and revisit that issue, I would certainly be open to the possibility of broadcasting board meetings again. As a district, that’s just one area of transparency we cannot afford right now.
Vasquez said he is “in complete agreement” with Sobecki.
“Mr. Flagg is entitled to his opinion and I respect that. But Mr. Flagg has been around for a long time, and I would hope he would acknowledge that the board has made great strides in becoming more transparent,” Sobecki said.