During a whirlwind Twin Cities visit this week, Minneapolis schools superintendent-in-waiting Sergio Paez made an impassioned case for the job. He told education stakeholders and community groups that he is a transparent, responsive leader. He said he made the visit so that he could address concerns about his candidacy in face-to-face conversations.
Despite his PR campaign, Paez should not become the next Minneapolis schools chief. Though the school board voted 6-3 early last month to hire him, information revealed since then should take him out of the running. Board members should either return to the finalist list they already have or start another search.
Paez also met with members of the Star Tribune Editorial Board during his unannounced trip. He told us that he wanted to make his case for why he is a good fit for Minneapolis. And, the personable and experienced educator said, he is fighting for his ‘‘reputation.”
Paez finds himself in that situation because just 48 hours after the Minneapolis school board announced his appointment last month, a report by the Disability Law Center alleged that students in a Holyoke, Mass., special education program were abused by school staff members. The report described excessive use of restraints as well as situations in which students were “slapped’’ or ‘‘thrown to the floor.’’ Paez was superintendent in Holyoke when the alleged abuse took place. After the report was released, the Minneapolis board suspended contract talks with Paez.
The former Holyoke superintendent said he took the appropriate action at the time — including suspending a staff member at the school. And he says the Massachusetts education department verified that the problems had been addressed and that the case was closed. However, the Disability Law Center’s report prompted the state to reopen its investigation. And a criminal investigation into the allegations has been launched.
After the report was released, the Minneapolis board sent two of its members to Holyoke to talk with staff members there and conduct their own brief inquiry into Paez’s performance. Their findings are expected to be shared with other board members in the next few days.
While in Minneapolis this week, Paez had little official support from the school board. Some members who met with him appreciated the personal sessions, but others were put off by the surprise meetings.
What remains more troubling is that the results of the investigations in Massachusetts will not be available by Jan. 12, when the Minneapolis board is expected to announce whether it will stick with the decision to appoint Paez. We also continue to be concerned that Paez did not disclose that the Disability Law Center investigation was underway while he interviewed in Minneapolis. As we previously argued in this space, the cloud now hovering over his candidacy is too much to overcome.
Under current circumstances, Paez is not the right person to lead Minneapolis schools. School board members should make another choice.