Board selects Durant as TPS interim superintendentWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After a second round of interviews that lasted three hours, the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously to name Romules Durant as its interim superintendent, April 8.
Durant, 37, TPS’s assistant superintendent of the Bowsher, Scott and Waite Learning Communities, said he was overjoyed to receive the news.
“I’m very excited,” Durant said. “We have a road ahead of us, and [I’m looking forward] to being able to be in charge as well as developing a lot of energy that I have with myself along with [what’s] already here with the board. I’m just very excited to begin to look at the vision of TPS, to begin to work with our partnerships and to continue on with the Transformation Plan that we put forth two, three years ago.”
Durant said he was looking forward to the challenges he knows he will face.
“In regards to any superintendent, your sole duty is working in close relationship to the board members. [I look to] begin to be much more inclusive in the discussions as opposed to in my previous position, [where I] kind of took a back seat to Dr. Pecko.”
Durant said his regular interactions with TPS students “in walking through the hallways, as well as [working with] many of them [as] part of my student youth group,” makes him a firm believer that student input is essential for the district’s success.
“I expect to [tell students to] look for more leadership positions,” Durant said. “We want you to begin to own the mission individually in TPS. When you’re capable of saying it, then we know we’ve done our job in due diligence in regards to setting a tone of what we expect from our youth.”
Durant, a 1994 Waite High School graduate, said he is looking forward to “reinvest within the district and provide the things” he was afforded as a TPS student himself.
Durant said he was never really nervous about whether he would be offered the interim superintendent position. He said he used the training and preparation from his student football-playing days to be prepared for whatever decision the BOE reached.
“Coming from my athletic background, you’re used to performing on certain days,” Durant said. “I think what I’ve taken away from the game of football, when we’re talking about data and statistics, [is the] results in regards to how to go about 48-hour preparation—how to prepare yourself [in the preceding] 48 hours [of any event] which will allow you to perform in a means that you visualize on a day-to-day basis.”
Durant deferred any comments about goals he may have for the district, saying “I leave that in the hands of my board.
“My main thing is, one, start with youth in regard to what their philosophy is, as well as their goals. I’m looking forward to make sure that I step forward and carry through with those.”
‘Best meet the needs of the district’
Brenda Hill, board president and spokesperson, said the BOE selected the candidate “we think will best meet the needs of the district.”
In their second interviews, Hill said the BOE asked Durant and candidate Douglas Heuer “general questions about the school system and how would you see us moving forward. And then we had a discussion. We talked about what’s coming up. We just decided, with academics, and all other kinds of issues, and the levy, we needed someone who would be organized and someone who would have accountability.
“It’s not that the other superintendent candidate didn’t [have those qualities]. We just had to decide between the two of them who we thought would do the best as far as organizing, having accountability, moving us forward, making our report card improve, and also be able to get the confidence of the community. We decided Dr. Durant would probably be the best one.”
Hill said the BOE was unconcerned with Durant’s youth.
“You find most people who do things and are famous, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., started in their 30’s and 40’s,” Hill said. “So leadership comes at an early age. I think sometimes people are kind of born with leadership and leadership abilities. Dr. Durant has leadership abilities. He’s worked. He’s shown it. And we believe he would be a good leader for our system.”
Hill said the BOE discussed offering Durant a one-year contract, “but those things have to be worked out” in contract negotiations with Durant, Keith Wilkowski, TPS legal counsel, and Hill. Once an agreement is reached, Hill said the board will publicly vote to approve Durant’s contract.
Hill also left open the possibility that Durant could be named superintendent at the end of his interim contract.
“If we want him, and he wants us, he can apply to us and we could decide to make him permanent, or not,” Hill said.
Denied a chance to speak
Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel (TAAP), had his request to address the BOE before it went into executive session denied by Hill.
Yates requested to speak to the board “per contract.” The relevant portion of the TAAP contract, page 8, number 6, reads that TAAP’s representative can “… appear and speak at all regular and special meetings of the board.”
Hill said she would not permit him to speak because she had already moved that the BOE to go into executive session.
“I’m sorry,” Hill said. “I have moved right now that we go into executive session, and I have a second and a motion.”
Hill then called on Treasurer Matthew Cleland to call the roll.
In a three-minute private conversation with Wilkowski, Hill, BOE vice president Cecelia Adams and BOE member Larry Sykes after the BOE dismissed itself to go into executive session, Yates said he given a send, unrelated reason as to why he could not speak. He said he was told he could not speak because the formal announcement of the special board meeting did not include that members of the bargaining units would be speaking. Yates said he was asked not to be confrontational.
Request ‘not to be confrontational’
Yates said he contemplated “their request to not force them into … to not be confrontational. My intention was not to be confrontational. I don’t want to disrupt the process of hiring an interim superintendent. I simply wanted the opportunity to speak to the performance audit to make sure the board knows that we’re supportive of a performance audit that is correct and accurate and the recommendations that come from it are based on correct and accurate data, not inaccurate.
“What I wanted to say to them is that the performance audit is flawed, it needs to be fixed, and we can’t do that by [the] Wednesday [deadline]. We need ample time to go back to fix the inaccuracies with correct data so we can make good recommendations based on facts that are correct. Having that done by Wednesday is not possible.
“I’m finding multiple inaccuracies that have significant impact on the recommendations. Like 2010 student data, the number of kids in the various school buildings is wrong. The data that was provided was pre-K-8 configurations before the district redistricted.
“Also, the number of administrators cited in the report of 429 is grossly inaccurate. The correct number is 200. Even if we included everyone in the bargaining unit, our total is about 265. We do not have 429 members.”
Yates said the Evergreen audit also reports assistant principal salaries inaccurately, thereby gives the BOE a false projection of savings. Yates said assistant principals make $62,000 a year, not the $85,000 cited in the performance audit. “Yet, that was the number used to calculate the $101 million over five years,” Yates said, “and it’s inaccurate.
“Dr. [Linda] Reico made a comment about using the TAAP contract to determine staffing levels for principals. It didn’t include what was really the contract language because it was done outside the contract. We were reconfiguring to a K-8 [structure]. So her recommendation on number of assistant principals based on contract is incorrect.”
Lack of malicious intent
“Mind you, I don’t think any of that is malicious,” Yates said. “I don’t think any of that is because anyone is trying to manipulate.
“I think it’s just wrong data that needs to be fixed. Let’s fix it and move forward. But it has to be fixed. And to do that by Wednesday? Have you seen the report?
“I’ve been reading it. There’s a lot of information in it I agree with and a lot I don’t agree with. But I can live with that.
“What I can’t live with is inaccurate, incomplete, misleading information. And unfortunately, there’s some of that that needs to be fixed.
Yates said he was also disappointed with the BOE’s unwillingness to respect both the letter and spirit of its contract with TAAP.
“I think it’s unfortunate they don’t want to hear a voice, especially since it was a mistake on their part,” Yates said.
It is Yates position that the conflict is the result of a mistake made by someone who works for TPS. And because a district employee made a mistake in drafting the special board meeting notice, a bargaining unit representative who is contractually permitted to address the BOE at any and all board meetings was denied the opportunity to speak.
The notice was signed by Treasurer Matthew Cleland.
“It’s unfortunate,” Yates said. “This performance audit is too important not to get correct.
“It does a nice job of putting together a five-year plan. Whether we agree with all or not, we will have to work with that. [We have to] at least get people focused on what we have to do with our big picture planning, but it has to be right. I want to make sure they don’t rush to get something done because there’s a thought that it’s more important to get a product done than it is to get it done and right.”
Yates also said that Wilkowski told him that he was restricted as to what he could speak about at a special board meeting.
“Board counsel tells me that I can only speak regarding the matter at hand,” Yates said. “I don’t know that’s there’s anything in the language of the contract that restricts me from speaking about whatever it is that I feel I need to speak about. And they wouldn’t let me speak in violation of our contract.”
Yates said that because he was not allowed to address the board, he intends to do two things.
“One, each of the board members needs to know that performance audit has to be corrected. I will contact them individually. Two, [the board] has to be granted enough time to get it right.”
Yates added a third thing he wants to see come from this situation.
“I want to make sure that on every single agenda from now on, that organizational input be added to the agenda,” Yates said. “And organizational input is not limited to anything other than then what the organization has to share regarding whatever they want to share.”