There’s something fundamentally wrong with a job description that requires one person to be both a right-brain and a left-brain genius. That person may, indeed, exist. But if that person really is out there, he or she is by definition way too smart to take a job as DISD superintendent.
Talk about a dumb career move: Who in their right mind would want a job that is a guaranteed political minefield, one that will assuredly result in you being called a racist and an idiot, even if you’re being paid $300,000 a year? The job expectancy is only around three years, so about the time you’re getting settled and have surrounded yourself with people you can trust, you’ll be shown the door for some perceived failing that will likely damage your future career prospects and might not even involve what you’re best at doing.
That’s the situation we’re in right now with the job description for DISD superintendent. The single person running the district is equally responsible for everything financial and everything academic.
And I submit to you that’s a big, big mistake. I said yesterday I would provide a blueprint for future DISD success, and here it is: We need to break the superintendent’s position into two separate jobs staffed by two separate people. That’s right — we need an academic superintendent and a financial superintendent, and both should be independent of each other and report directly to the school board.
Take current DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, for example. Here’s a guy who is considered, even by many of his critics, an accomplished educator who understands how to help DISD’s income-challenged students. So what turns out to be his biggest Achilles’ heel? His hire of a financial guy who knew a lot about corporate finance but apparently very little about state and federal educational funding.
The finance guy made some miscalculations, and all of a sudden DISD was short about $64 million in 2008. And who took the blame from which he’ll never recover, at least around here? Naturally it was Hinojosa, since he’s in charge of the district. Never mind that he has never claimed to be a numbers guy; that responsibility simply comes with the current job description.
Now suppose the financial guy had been hired directly by the school board, and suppose he or she reported directly to the board, and suppose his or her job revolved solely around giving DISD’s academic administrators a budget and making sure the promised funding materialized to meet that budget.
And suppose Hinojosa’s sole job was to stay within that budget while boosting the district’s academic credentials.
Now we’ve set up the person in each position to stand on his or her own merits while not being held responsible for the other’s shortcomings. Isn’t that what good management is all about — putting people in a position to succeed?
And here’s the other beautiful part of that plan: Suddenly, the school board is responsible for hiring and/or firing the person for each position independently, so we as stakeholders know exactly who to hold accountable for what.
Had those job descriptions been in place in 2008, it’s likely that Hinojosa would still be a relatively popular guy among parents and staff today, since the financial shortfall wouldn’t have been his fault. Instead, we’d be assessing whether his inability to lower DISD’s drop-out rate during the past five years outweighs his achievement of boosting test-passage from 49 percent to 64 percent.
The only drawback: This plan will cost DISD a few hundred thousand dollars more to split the superintendent’s job into two high-paying positions. But that’s a small price to pay for continuity and, ultimately, holding people accountable for jobs they’re capable of performing rather than tasks they simply aren’t equipped to do.