Take the long view

Firing Medford's schools chief now would hurt more than it would help

Medford School Board members who want to dismiss Superintendent Phil Long immediately should back down. By pushing the issue now, regardless of the outcome, they risk doing real damage to the school district in the long run.

Long has headed the county's largest school district for eight years. His contract expires at the end of June 2014, and the School Board has not voted to extend it beyond that date.

The superintendent's relationship with the board has been rocky at times, and some board members have criticized his communication skills and their perception that he is reluctant to follow board directives. Long's performance was an issue during the recent School Board elections, which saw Paulie Brading, one of his detractors, defeated by Larry Nicholson, a former board chairman generally seen as a Long supporter.

Brading leaves office at the end of June. Board Member Kim Wallan, who abruptly moved to dismiss Long immediately during the board's Tuesday night meeting, made it clear she wanted a vote before Brading left the board.

Wallan's move was questionable on several fronts.

Ambushing one's colleagues without notice is not the way to get along, or to get one's way, on a seven-member board.

Beyond that, if a dismissal vote was held and Long's supporters defeated it, which seems likely, his supporters could rally behind him and vote to extend his contract, leaving him on the job beyond next July 1.

If the board did fire Long, the fallout would be far worse. An acting superintendent would need to be named, likely from within the district administration, while the search for a new superintendent was under way. It is unlikely that top-notch candidates would be willing to come to a district to work for what would be seen as a dysfunctional board in a divided community. It would be hard enough to find good candidates willing to take on Oregon's inadequate school funding system without throwing local politics into the mix.

There is no emergency that justifies hasty action in this situation. Long has deficiencies as an administrator, mainly in the areas of communication and leadership. But he is a fundamentally decent man doing the best he can under difficult circumstances. Leaving him on the job one more year won't damage the district in any meaningful way.

The board should stick with its earlier decision to allow Long's contract to run its course, and spend the year in a nationwide search for a top-quality replacement with the qualities the Medford School District needs.


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