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Gainesville school board now evaluating superintendent

POSTED: June 29, 2008 5:02 a.m.

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Steven Ballowe, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools, called the process in which the city board of education will evaluate him this week "a fair appraisal."

Members of the Gainesville City Board of Education will turn in evaluation forms to board Chairman Willie Mitchell today assessing the superintendent’s job performance for the 2007-2008 school year. Board member David Syfan said the school board is scheduled for a retreat from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the school system’s office on Oak Street.

He said the retreat was originally called to update and clarify operational procedures for new board members Maria Calkins and Sammy Smith. But Syfan said the original intent could be pushed aside to discuss budget cuts and Ballowe’s evaluation.

"We need to have more forward movement in discussing the budget," Syfan said. "The budget is important, but the evaluation of the superintendent is also important. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do both."

He said any action the board might take regarding the remaining two years of Ballowe’s contract with the school system likely will be taken by June 30.

The board is also scrambling to make more cuts to the proposed $61.6 million fiscal year 2009 budget due to the state Department of Education by June 30.

School board member Sammy Smith said the board has yet to include recommended cuts into the proposed budget.

Calkins said cutting the budget is her top priority this weekend.

According to a tentative budget document that Janet Allison, director of finance for the school system, devised last week, the board will have an estimated $6.5 million deficit going into the 2009 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Presently, the proposed budget estimates the school system will have a deficit of $5.1 million by the end of June 2009 despite an anticipated 14.4 percent property tax increase.

Syfan said the forms will evaluate Ballowe’s performance in six goals and 81 objectives the board identified last year, including fiscal accountability.

Ballowe said he likes the system the board uses to evaluate him.

"Our strategic plan, our evaluation process ... is something I’m very, very proud of," he said Tuesday. "It’s one of those that a superintendent should only be evaluated on what is expected. The superintendent should be held accountable for things that are laid out and you are given time to address it. It’s a fair appraisal, without a doubt."

Tony Arasi, director of professional development for the Georgia School Board Association, said school boards are allowed to adopt their own instruments of evaluation.

"It’s up to (the school board and the superintendent) to decide how they’re going to evaluate him and do it using evidence," Arasi said. "It’s totally up to them. There’s tremendous leeway. Gainesville’s (evaluation instrument) is pretty specific. A lot of school boards don’t have an instrument with that specificity."

The board will use an evaluation process similar to the one it has used in Ballowe’s annual evaluations since he was hired in 2001, according to Syfan.

But the board may adopt a slightly different method this year, Syfan said.

In past years, the board has used a method where board members rate the superintendent’s performance on each goal or objective on a scale from one to five, with five being the best rating. From 2001 to 2007, Ballowe’s evaluations ratings have ranged from 4.16 for the 2001-2002 school year to 4.41 for the 2006-2007 school year.

Using the method former board member Frank Harben implemented in 2002, instead of simply averaging all board members’ numbers for each objective to determine a rating, a consensus rating is determined.

A consensus rating is used in lieu of an average when the board’s average rating for an objective varies greater than one rating value from a single board member’s figure for an objective. In an instance where a board member gives the superintendent a one on an objective while the rest of the board gives the superintendent a four or five, for example, the board uses the middle value of the range of numbers.

Harben stated in a 2002 memo detailing the evaluation process that this method is probably a better indicator of board consensus, or is a compromise.

Syfan said the board may decide to forego that method this year and adopt a straight averaging method. He did not cite a specific number in an evaluation result that could lead to Ballowe’s termination.

He also said that it was possible that as a result of discussions, board members could change the their initial scores for Ballowe.

Ballowe said he expects the board to determine that he needs to improve in the area assessing fiscal accountability.

"This shortfall, if you really look at our audit from last year, it didn’t predict what has happened," Ballowe said. "And yes, I expect that to be an area of growth and that needs to be an area of needs improvement that I really need to address as we move forward.

"We definitely don’t throw (money) away, but at the same time our results are among the best in the state and the country," he said. "And right now, that’s been lost in some of the fervor in the shortfall of trying to point fingers."

Syfan said the portion of the retreat where Ballowe’s evaluation will be discussed will be closed to the public. He said any action the board might take regarding the superintendent’s contract will be conducted in a public meeting.



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