State

Modesto City Schools trustees take no action on officials

Modesto City Schools trustees met in closed session Wednesday evening to evaluate Superintendent Arturo Flores, Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Debbe Bailey and Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources Chris Flesuras.

The 4½-hour meeting ended with trustees returning to open session with no action taken and comes as the district faces turmoil at the top.

Bailey was placed on paid administrative leave April 27 after nine years at the post. She and her lawyer have said she was placed on leave over "philosophical differences" but declined to be more specific.

Though no resolution was reached on Bailey's status, Board President Steve Grenbeaux said trustees should have one by next week.

He said trustees worked on Flores' evaluation and it would come back for further discussion after Flores receives the appraisal. Flesuras' evaluation is a routine, annual review.

While trustees work on addressing a schism in the district's top leadership, they're dealing with a work environment that's been described by employees as tense.

Grenbeaux has acknowledged employee stress but said most comes from the unknown, and that because the latest controversy centers on a personnel matter that can't be discussed publicly, the board's hands are tied.

"(Trustees have) talked about being as open and honest as we can be -- that builds trust," Trustee Cindy Marks said Tuesday.

That transparency is weakened in the eyes of some employees and community members when the publicly elected board refers comments to the superintendent or board president. The board has a long history of expressing different opinions among its members and open discussion. Limiting comment to the president goes against that, some have said.

Former trustee Paul Neumann, who served 12 years starting in 1985, remembers similar public scrutiny over personnel actions.

Neumann said he remembers a very outspoken Modesto City Schools board, with trustees publicly voicing different opinions. Some wrote opinion commentaries in The Bee while others submitted letters to the editor, he said.

Other former Modesto schools trustees could not be reached Wednesday.

When comments are filtered through the board president or superintendent, it's a way to control information, Neumann said. Grenbeaux said the president is the spokesperson for the board on personnel issues to express the board's position.

Trustees have chosen not to answer nonconfidential questions, such as the timing of losing two key employees in the district in suspending Bailey and the sudden, early retirement of Pat Nan, the superintendent's assistant.

"There are questions they have to figure out how to answer without divulging too much information," said Neumann, noting it's difficult to strike such a balance.

When asked if they were concerned about the expense of possibly buying out 13 months of Bailey's contract, racking up attorney fees and defending a possible lawsuit, trustees said they are always concerned about the district's finances.

"On all our financial issues, there's a whole range of due diligence," Trustee Steve Collins said Tuesday.

No matter how trustees act on the current personnel issues, many community members hope they act soon. The district office's low morale is directly related to trustees' indecision, employees say.

And the current fiscal crisis calls for district staff to be at their best.

"They need to bring the focus back to the trying times we're in," Neumann said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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