Moving on?

Less than three years from the time she was selected as St. Paul’s school superintendent, Meria Carstarphen is already thinking of getting out of town, according to reports today. She’s a finalist for a superintendent’s job in Austin, Texas. The news comes almost three years from the day Carstarphen was selected as St. Paul’s school chief in March 2006. A concern at the time was she tended not to stay in one place very long.

The first school officials appeared to hear of her desire to leave was when she put her Summit Avenue home up for sale, although they tried to dampen speculation by saying she only intended to move into a condo instead.

Her predecessor, Pat Harvey, only stayed for 6 years, and considered leaving for Portland halfway through her tenure.

Her predecessor, Curman Gaines, lasted seven years. He, too, let his name be floated for an out-of-town gig (Seattle) halfway through his tenure. But he had spent 25 years in the system, coming to St. Paul as a science teacher in the ’70s.

Why don’t school superintendents stick around longer? The Pioneer Press analyzed metro school district salaries last year and found them rising faster than teacher pay. It documented how far districts are willing to go to keep superintendents around, usually with car allowances and bankable vacations and unused sick days.

Gaines was considered one of St. Paul’s best superintendents. A comment at the time from a teacher’s union official might explain why. “He’s one of us. He’s home-grown. He knows the state and what’s going on. We don’t want to lose him – and I didn’t have to say that,” Sandra Peterson said in 1995.

What direction should St. Paul take now? Should it look for someone local or try to attract someone else’s superintendent who’s ready to move on?

Update 2:18 p.m. – MPR’s Paul Tosto, who knows more than a little something about the education beat, sends along this report that shows the average urban school superintendent lasts for three years. In 1999, it was a little over two years.

  • davfar

    People come and people go nowadays. This ain’t your father (or mother’s) IBM anymore. The days of anyone working for a company or organization for their entire career are long gone. Both sides have to learn how to deal with this.

  • Tammy

    She stayed longer than the average…the average tenure for a superintendent across the country is (and has been for a time) 18 months.

  • Bob Collins

    18 months. Doesn’t that tell us something about why schools are messed up? I’m not sure what it tells us but if school superintendents can’t last longer than the average counter person at McDonald’s, isn’t something wrong somewhere?

  • Matt

    Superintendents have a high profile, high stress job. The problem is schools are expected to do too much with too few resources, and the same expectations are held to all education positions. It’s not about money (although that can contribute to most problems), it’s about resources as a whole. Educators are expected to be miracle workers. After 18 months of trying to make miracle’s happen, people get burned out. 3 years isn’t that bad of a run…

  • Doug

    As a teacher, I would have to agree with most of the comments above tough I think Bob’s comment about schools generally being “messed up” is just a tad over simplified.

    In addition to superintendents coming and going, think about school board members–there are no minimum qualifications for this position, which are essentially in charge of the administering of 40% of the state’s budget. I look at our own board and often wonder what is going on with the system.

    Superintendents now have to be politicians, asking for money every other year from voters who are exhausted from all of the campaigns, numbers, etc. I think there’s a link between lack of funding, unfunded mandates, etc.

    Maybe Meria is moving on just because she can. Our last sup’t got our district into a bad situation, gave everyone a raise, and left town. He’s now working in California.

    Maybe you’re right, Bob. Things are messed up.

  • bsimon

    “I’m not sure what it tells us but if school superintendents can’t last longer than the average counter person at McDonald’s, isn’t something wrong somewhere?”

    Perhaps a more apropos comparison would be to corporate executives.

    Another report on the subject mentions that Ms. Carstarphen’s contract is up this summer. Seems to me like she’s being smart to keep her options open. If the St Paul district wishes her to stay on longer, they either should have signed her to a longer contract or perhaps will have to sweeten the deal to get her to stay.

    The angst over her departure kindof reminds me of the Mpls situation with police chiefs. They do a nationwide search to find the ‘perfect’ candidate, who stays long enough to burnish his resume before moving on to the next city, which pays more.

  • Bob Collins

    The question is, however, is whether a three year stint, or even a six-year stint is what’s best for the St. Paul school system? Do school boards tend to favor the “grass is greener” approach by going outside the district for leadership and does that strategy pay off?

    As you look around the country, you see lots of out-of-towners going into districts with big plans, only to fly out of town just a few years later. But where are the results?

    And why do they leave? Is it the relationship with school boards? Is it recognition that change is impossible?

    I probably am oversimplifying the phrase “messed up.” My definition is when 97% of principals in the state they can’t meet requirements for students to be proficient in reading and math, even if they had a 5 year head start.

    That they’re already declaring failure is … well… messed up.

  • D

    To the person who said they should look to sign her to a deal longer than three years, that isn’t possible. Minnesota Statute only allows a maximum of 3 years on one contract.

    School Boards are allowed, however, to negotiate a new 3 year contract starting on July 1 of the last year the contract is to expire. That means the board could have negotiated a contract with her last July 1. Doing it now is a little later than normal, and she may have gotten frustrated with the lateness.

    Also, Superintendents are the only certified group not to be given tenure. That was abolished in the 90’s, and I believe that is one reason we are finding school districts with shortages of applicants for Superintendents.

  • Blackbeard

    Sooo, how much does it pay? How much are U willing to pay? Superintendents nowadays seem to be like most top level people…Police chiefs, Fire chiefs ect… they go where the most money and perks are…And they say whatever U want to hear to get the job…stay a bit , add it to the resume and take off for for better money/perks down the road….

  • Citizen Jane

    The emperor has no clothes syndrome, just like the Wall Street crooks overpaid to fail, and given bonuses anyway.

    The problem is the CEO business model, which concentrates all power at the top. That isn’t an effective model for public sector governance, which demands creative collaboration and the empowerment of innovators, not status quo Joes.

    I have a great idea. Let her go, and don’t replace her. Put a collaborative senior leadership team in charge of finishing up what she started, then wait for the results to come in. And make sure that senior leadership team includes people outside the District leadership, including representatives from each of the District’s unions.

    We need to get well beyond the idiocy of the rock star/celebrity CEO leadership model that has destroyed our nation’s public education and health care systems. We used to be #1 in the world. What happened?

    Answer: the corporate CEO leadership model and bogus “accountability” movement. How accountable are these CEO/superintendents when they are many years gone and miles down the road from the failed “vision” they left behind?

    We have the same problem with university presidents, who have now been given all the power, at the expense of the collaborative board model once used to govern. They abuse their authority, surround themselves with suckups and yes folk, reinvent the wheel, and are gone along with our taxpayer dollars.

    We don’t need them, but they sure need us to believe we do, otherwise their scam wouldn’t run anymore.

    When will we wake up and smell the sustainably grown locally brewed coffee?