Controversy follows superintendent resignation

Controversy follows superintendent resignation

Grace Palmer, Print Editor in Chief

“I am acknowledging that the role of superintendent for this next phase of work requires a level of intensity and focus to which I am unable to fully commit,” Bernadeia Johnson stated in a press release explaining her abrupt resignation released in early December.

Michael Goar, who has been the MPS district’s CEO for about a year, has taken her place as interim superintendent until the search is completed. Some have advocated that he should be hired as our district’s next superintendent.

Johnson, who took on the position in 2010, continually faced criticism for her limited success in fighting the achievement gap and lowering suspension rates. Shortly before Johnson announced her resignation, the school district evaluated progress in these areas as less than satisfactory but MPS says she was not pushed to step down.

The district under Johnson’s leadership faced another blow in early January, when the Star Tribune reported mismanagement of funds through credit card usage. District employees allegedly used district expense scores for $1.5 million worth of expenses in the past 6 months. It is unclear how much of that money went towards questionable purchases, but in a sample of examined reports over half of purchases did not have receipts. This is against district policy.

Thousands also went to travel expenses for the district leadership team, and among those accused of flouting district expense rules are both Bernadeia Johnson and Michael Goar. Both reimbursed the district after the Star Tribune inquired about the funds.  However, this controversy may affect public perception of Goar during the superintendent search.

Overall, it seems as if there may be more questions regarding Michael Goar than answers. Sarah Lahm, a reporter for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and South parent, drew attention to several. “[It’s] not clear where he went to college or what his degrees are in… does Goar have any actual teaching experience?”

According to Goar’s resume, he attended Mankato State and attained a degree in Public Administration. Superintendents typically have degrees related to education.Goar held the position of executive director of human resources and labor relations  at MPS in the early 2000s, went on to leadership positions in other cities,  and was brought back on as CEO last year. One thing that is clear is that Goar’s only involvement within the MPS has been at the district level. Teaching or field experience is usually a qualification for getting a superintendent license, according to the Minnesota Administrative Rules, chapter 3152.

Goar’s past is shrouded in mystery. Lahm spoke of her difficulties to finding out more about Goar’s actions in previous jobs.  “There’s nothing really concrete [in Minneapolis] for people to hang their hats on, so there’s a desire to look at his background… what happened in Memphis [or in] Boston?” Lahm asked.

A Boston Teachers Union (BTU) news post published September 20, 2011, answers part of that question. It is entitled “Superintendent’s staff spreads misinformation about BTU position” and goes on to say, “Deputy Goar exaggerat[ed] price tag of union’s overtime proposal by $29 million.” The piece can be found online and contains a full breakdown of the alleged misrepresentation of funds.

Goar has also headed up the campaign for community partnership schools, a new and controversial model. “That’s something that people should think about and ask questions about, because that’s a very different direction for the district,” Lahm said. Nonetheless, Lahm says, many in the district continue to support Goar as the most suitable person for the position. “Mike Goar has been put forth as the logical choice for district employees,” Lahm said, continuing, “there’s a feeling that, as someone who’s been part of the district for a while, he’s the logical choice.”

Lahm advocates for more community member involvement in the search. “It would be great to see more student voice when it comes to shaping district policy,” she said. “[Students are] on the frontline of feeling the impact.” She suggested that students put together a wishlist of what they wanted to see in a superintendent and bring it in front of the school board.

South freshman Shovana Malloy-Rydeen did just that at the most recent school board meeting.

“I’m here to talk about what I need in a superintendent,” Malloy-Rydeen began her speech. She went on to say, “I need a superintendent that is a role model. One who has taken the time to earn their PhD. Someone who has been teaching in the classroom… The next superintendent needs to help [our teachers] and have experience.” Community members and teachers also spoke at the school board meeting, including South social studies teacher Robert Panning-Miller.

So far, the school board has not made a statement about how they will fill the position. A search committee has begun meeting to decide on a hiring strategy. They will update the school board at their February 11th meeting.