Former chief of Paso Robles school district tells board: Stop your infighting

Kathleen McNamara served as superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District from 2007 to 2014.
Kathleen McNamara served as superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District from 2007 to 2014.

After reading recent articles about the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District’s board of trustees that were published in the newspaper and broadcast over TV and radio, I felt I needed to provide additional information to the public about the validity of the accusations made by the members of the school board.

I served as superintendent of schools for the district for seven years. During my tenure as superintendent, I endured numerous negative experiences with school board members. None of those experiences were with trustee Chris Bausch. Mr. Bausch always treated me with the utmost courtesy and professional respect.

This current board situation — Baush is facing censure after being accused of intimidating and threatening other board members — is the same type of school board member disagreement that took place regularly while I served as superintendent.

There was a constant jockeying for position of leadership by certain board members. Veteran board members felt intimidated by newly elected board members. Certain board members would not state their opinions because of fear of retribution by other board members. The censuring of board member Bausch for allegedly making threatening remarks is an example of the petty behavior I experienced as superintendent.

On several occasions at board meetings in both open and closed session, my professionalism and educational program knowledge were called into question.

My professional reputation was at one time referred to as a “tar baby” by one of the board members. Further, I was told that departmental reports and disseminated information prepared by my staff was not to be trusted or believed. I was consistently belittled, disrespected and made to feel inadequate. I have retained all records of communications during my tenure with the district, which substantiate my comments.

Kathleen McNamara says school district trustee Chris Bausch, who is now facing censure, was unfailingly respectful and courteous. She calls on other board members to stop engaging in “verbal karate.”

This constant barrage of negativity created serious health challenges for me, which was the reason I finally decided to retire.

Throughout this ordeal, I was never treated disparagingly by board member Bausch. I was grateful that Mr. Bausch was often the voice of reason and able to assist in resolving board conflict.

I also had a situation where board members wanted to censure another board member during my tenure. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed, and we were able to come to a satisfactory resolution. I was able to discuss the situation in a rational manner with the entire board. Board members put the district ahead of their own personal differences and worked as a unit of leadership rather than seven individual leaders.

The current situation leads me to believe this squabbling has reached the same epic proportions. It is time for the current superintendent to assist his board in developing a rational and prudent resolution.

Paso Robles board members, please resist the temptation to engage in public verbal karate.

Each of you needs to do what you were elected to do. You were elected to serve the needs of your constituents and the students of the school district. You were not elected to advance your own personal agendas. You were not elected to flex your leadership muscles in order to gain power over other members of the school board. Board members should serve as ambassadors of goodwill for our school district, not destroy the school district’s reputation with infighting.

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District does not need to be tarnished by a board member’s bruised ego, personal agenda or power struggle.

The board should spread the good news regarding district accomplishments. I have yet to read any published articles about the $5 million award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency regarding its repayment to the district. The work to recapture this $5 million from Sacramento and Washington, D.C., took long hours of research and investigation on the part of Ashley Lightfoot, Shannon McCornack and Joey Iffert.

Why hasn’t the board publicly praised this topic? The board should communicate to its constituents the remuneration of funds from FEMA. The board should indicate to its constituents how these funds will be expended. The press was present when the funds were withheld, and they broadcast it everywhere. The press should now be present as the funds have been awarded and blitz the community with the same vigor. These are the kinds of issues and topics that should be discussed and presented to the public, not airing edited comments out of context for headlines.

The issues that involve personality and opinion differences have no place in our district’s educational mission.

Paso Robles Board of Education, do the job you were elected to do. Be the educational leaders you were elected to be.

Kathleen McNamara served as superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District from 2007 to 2014.