Dysfunction between Modesto City Schools' top two officials has been going on for nearly two years, according to documents the district released to The Bee this week.
E-mails and memos show a power struggle that boiled over in January and became public two months ago between Superintendent Arturo Flores and Debbe Bailey, the district's chief business officer.
He accuses Bailey of "unprofessional" behavior and "questionable judgment" for having e-mailed internal information to the teachers union. He also says they could not agree on financial strategy, and that Bailey undermined him to district employees and the public.
Bailey was placed on paid leave April 27. Flores and district trustees gave her and the public little explanation, citing confidentiality in personnel matters. She's worked at the district 23 years, eight as deputy superintendent.
After Bailey was placed on leave, the district's human resources department began a review of her work e-mails from her office computer. Officials found e-mails dating to July 20, 2007 — three weeks after Flores took office — between Bailey and who appears to be Pat Nan, the superintendent's secretary, containing snide comments and complaints about Flores.
Many names of district employees, other Stanislaus County education officials and Modesto Teachers Association officials were blacked out from the 130 pages of documents released to The Bee in response to a public records request.
In an e-mail Jan. 13, an MTA official asked Bailey if she had anything to add to a regularly scheduled meeting agenda between union leaders and district officials. Bailey responded, directing the union to ask about the cost of a consultant for ongoing strategic plan support.
"That's a $40,000 contract and I have yet to figure out for what," Bailey wrote.
In a performance review completed last week by Flores and Roman Muñoz, the district's attorney, Flores calls Bailey's conduct in that case unethical.
"You (Bailey) demonstrated questionable judgment by not informing the district's chief negotiator that you provided this information and your questionable description of the district's use of a consultant ... in such a negative manner without advising my office of your concerns is unprofessional," Flores wrote. "Your conduct serves only to create distrust and animosity between the district and the association (MTA)."
Bailey maintains that only selected e-mails were being released to make her look bad, and that most of her e-mail comments are being misinterpreted. Muñoz said the e-mails released were the only ones recovered from Bailey's computer.
Flores was unaware of Bailey's critical e-mails and communication with the MTA in January, when the two met with a mediator. Flores said he initiated that discussion after the two argued over a winter of 2008 district newsletter describing the district's financial picture and after Bailey made a disparaging remark about him on a statewide e-mail list for school district chief business officials.
"I feel like I'm swimming upstream when my boss wants to put a positive spin on everything," Bailey wrote.
Flores said Wednesday that Bailey's conversations with MTA leaders and Trustee Cindy Marks have fractured relationships among trustees and district staff. He also said that Bailey's behind-the-scenes conversations have been detrimental to the district, trustees and the staff's ability to deliver resources to improve student learning.
In exchanges with Marks, Bailey forwarded e-mails to her from Flores pointing out his perceived shortcomings. Bailey also warns Marks against giving employees a 1 percent salary increase for 2008-09, encouraging her to ask others to delay the raises.
When reached by cell phone on vacation Wednesday, Marks said she "had a fiduciary responsibility to investigate things" Bailey brought up, and said she did not feel the conversations were inappropriate or being held behind Flores' back.
E-mails between Bailey and Marks in June 2008 include a reference to Flores' ethnicity.
"I know the political reality is that my 23 years of dedication to this district are completely outweighed by the board's public commitment to the superintendent and the fact that he's a minority (and plays it to the hilt, including that no Hispanic can now be truly held accountable for performance in this district)," Bailey wrote to Marks.
Flores said the remark means little to him, but said it's another example of Bailey's unprofessionalism.
Bailey describes a hostile working environment in which she was accused of "hiding money," and said others thought of her as a "stingy wicked witch," according to e-mails Bailey wrote. She said she felt her financial decision making authority was being eroded by Flores, who was involving others in budget discussions.
In Bailey's review, Flores said she never gave him a chance to lead the district.
Bailey and Nan kept tabs on Flores's schedule, accusing him of mingling and "schmoozing" too much, according to the e-mails. They questioned his changing of district protocols. Their comments included professional and personal criticisms. They said he had "reading or visual" and memory problems and concluded that he had no writing skills.
More than a few times, Nan and Bailey traded e-mails about revising notes taken during staff meetings.
"It is so clear that he (Flores) totally doesn't get it. He can't comprehend what you are telling him and definitely can't convey what anyone says and make any sense of it. I'll fix the (meeting) minutes before having him sign. I don't think he will notice that I added and changed stuff from what he dictated," Nan said in a May 29 e-mail to Bailey.
After a confrontation with district officials in mid-May, Nan decided to retire.
Flores will recommend trustees take action on Bailey's contract within two months. He could suggest a range of options, from restoring Bailey to her position as deputy superintendent of business services to buying out the remaining 12 months on her $165,000-a-year contract.
Bailey said Wednesday it's impossible for her to return to the district office, and she wants to retire with the appropriate amount of years of service. She and attorney Frank Zumwalt have hinted at filing a lawsuit.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.
Responding to The Bee's public records request, Modesto City Schools this week released e-mails and memos that illustrate the struggle between Superintendent Arturo Flores and Deputy Superintendent Debbe Bailey.
Flores' main points of contention with Bailey:
She had inappropriate e-mail exchanges with representatives of the Modesto Teachers Association and gave the MTA privileged information. Bailey said it's common practice to share information in advance of MTA-district meetings.
She had inappropriate e-mail exchanges with Trustee Cindy Marks, providing her with questions to ask other administrators in an effort to put them on the spot. Bailey says the correspondence was a way she could discuss her fiscal concerns.
The two have different philosophies on spending. Flores writes in Bailey's review that his intent is to establish educational and operational goals, then look at the district's financial options. He says Bailey prefers to use the budget to guide educational decisions. Bailey disagrees, saying it's past practice to use education priorities to set the budget.
Bailey conspired with another employee to change or falsify the minutes of staff meetings. Bailey said Pat Nan, the superintendent's secretary, sought help to write the minutes because Flores failed to articulate or explain what happened during the meetings.
MODESTO CITY SCHOOLS TIMELINE
Jan. 6: Deputy Superintendent Debbe Bailey sends an e-mail to Superintendent Arturo Flores calling into question information printed in a district newsletter. She says the letter "gives an overly optimistic view of the district's financial situation."
Jan. 9: Bailey sends a response to a statewide business official listserv, an online forum, saying, "I feel like I'm swimming upstream when my boss wants to put a positive spin on everything." The posting is forwarded to Flores.
Jan. 21: Flores and Bailey meet with a mediator to discuss their disagreements; both sign off on new protocols Feb. 11 in an attempt to improve their working relationship.
April 20: Flores and Bailey meet to sign a letter certifying the district can afford a negotiated agreement with the Modesto Teachers Association. Bailey warns Flores that subsequent decisions will negatively impact the district's solvency.
Week of April 20: Bailey forwards e-mails she's exchanged with the MTA to the district's human resources department. Officials were collecting e-mails in response to a public records request from the NAACP seeking correspondence between the district and the MTA. Officials flag some of the e-mails between Bailey and the MTA as inappropriate.
April 27: Flores places Bailey on paid administrative leave.
April 29: Flores directs human resources to review more of Bailey's e-mails. The inquiry uncovers several e-mail strings between Bailey and Pat Nan, the longtime secretary to the superintendent; MTA officials; and Trustee Cindy Marks dating to July 2007, the month Flores took over as superintendent. The e-mails, Flores contends, show disloyalty to him and that Bailey never gave him a chance.