Marietta school board member objects to board practices

A rift has developed in the Marietta City Schools board of education over several aspects of district operation, with Mark Duckworth, elected to the board in November 2017, publicly objecting to several established processes.

Duckworth made a public statement – read from a five-page document – at the December board meeting and sent a letter to The Marietta Times that was published Tuesday, both critical of the way in which senior administrators are evaluated, the job descriptions used for several administrative positions and the district’s lack of a planning document for using capital funding provided by a levy.

Duckworth has been fairly quiet since his election, but in the wake of evaluations for superintendent Will Hampton and treasurer Frank Antill, he has become a vocal critic of the board.

The evaluations for the two senior administrators – the only positions in the district for which the board has hiring responsibility – began in late spring of last year and culminated in December. Both Hampton and Antill were given “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” ratings on about 20 points ranging from job responsibilities to personal habits. Duckworth said his understanding is that the board is required by Ohio law to evaluate on every point in the administrator’s job description, a considerably longer list.

“I think the OSBA (Ohio School Boards Association) form is a guideline, but board policy says we have to evaluate on every item in the job description,” Duckworth said Tuesday. “And that’s where the downfall lies, evaluating some things but not every thing.”

The OSBA form is used by other districts in the state and Washington County, including the Washington County Career Center and Fort Frye Local Schools.

Board vice president Russ Garrison said the OSBA form is the same one the district has used for years and is common across the state.

“We ought to be consistent with the past and with what other people are doing,” Garrison said. “We looked at the forms other districts are using, and they’re all similar, everyone else is comfortable that it’s the appropriate tool.”

Duckworth said his concerns about the process were “ignored,” but Garrison said Duckworth submitted his evaluation comments and observations as a “free form” text rather than using the OSBA form, so that document was included in the evaluation package.

“Everyone was given the form in mid-May, I got forms back from the people being evaluated as well as the board members, with the exception of Mark,” said Garrison, who led the process. “He provided input late, and instead of using the common form, he went through the job description and added questions and comments to it. Everyone was provided with the input, including Mark’s, in late June. We finalized the direction of the board in September and October, agreed on how to mark it up, what comments to put on the form, we had a session with the full board and the persons being evaluated. At the end of that process, Mark said we should be using that form, but there was no interest from other board members to go back and start over.”

The OSBA form covers the state requirements for the duties of superintendent and treasurer, Garrison said, and that’s what the board should be focused on in evaluating performance, along with results.

“My view is that it is state standards, and you don’t take a manager or CEO of a school district and walk through 100 lines of job description,” Garrison said. “The job description is, really, run the organization.”

Duckworth is a former employee of the district, having coached Tigers basketball from 2013-2016. The district declined to renew his contact in 2016, citing several infractions of procedure. As a coach, he had a strong following among parents and was elected to the board in November 2017. He said he thinks the board is not taking advantage of the experience of teachers and coaches in making its decisions.

Duckworth said the organization could do better, in terms of student performance and state testing standard, and the key to improvement in part is to update job descriptions, perform more detailed evaluations and set measurable, detailed, concrete goals for administrators.

“These job descriptions and evaluation forms haven’t been updated for 10 or 20 years, and I’m certain the jobs have changed in that period,” he said. “It’s not updated, it’s not current. Surely our superintendent’s job is not the same today as it was in 2002.”