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Boston school superintendent gets critical job evaluation

Panel shows some discontent with Carol R. Johnson

WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

”Transportation crisis spoke to a complete breakdown at the operational level, and district was slow to act,” said Mary Tamer, a committee member.

Carol Johnson did receive good marks for developing positive relationships with government officials and outside groups.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Carol Johnson did receive good marks for developing positive relationships with government officials and outside groups.

The Boston School Committee gave Superintendent Carol R. Johnson low marks in many areas on her most recent evaluation, revealing rare discontent among some members over her leadership less than a year after her contract was renewed with much fanfare.

The evaluation, conducted Jan. 31 at a School Committee retreat and obtained by the Globe this week under a public records request, highlighted Johnson’s difficulties in addressing several highly charged issues.

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Chief among the concerns: her slowness in fixing chronically late buses, causing a frustrated Mayor Thomas M. Menino to directly intervene; and her ill-fated proposal to relocate Boston Latin Academy last summer and a subsequent replacement plan that expands and changes the location of several popular schools, which has generated mixed reactions among parents and students.

The facilities plan remains contentious, as the City Council deliberates on an $18.6 million loan order to pay for the changes.

Johnson received good marks in other areas, most notably for aligning the annual operating budget to academic priorities and developing positive relationships with government officials and outside organizations. At least two members said her performance merited a bonus.

Menino said he remains strongly behind Johnson.

“Is she perfect? No one is perfect,’’ he said in an interview. “But she has done a good job of moving the system forward. We have more overchosen schools than ever before. . . . I have to give her credit. There is a lot of fight in her. She’s tenacious.’’

The committee rates performance on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 meaning performance exceeds expectations and 4 designating a failure to meet the standards and an unsatisfactory rating. Overall, Johnson received an average rating of 2.67, putting her close to a 3, a designation for a performance that does not fully meet the standards and expectations and needs improvement.

The lackluster rating by the seven-member committee, which is appointed by the mayor, was in sharp contrast to previous reviews.

After Johnson’s first school year, 2007-08, the committee gave her a flattering 1.8, while evaluations for her second and third years were 2.1 and 2.0, respectively. Those reviews were often followed up with glowing press releases, or in the case of last year, an extension of her contract until 2015.

This year, there were no such proclamations. The Rev. Gregory Groover, the committee’s chairman, said members largely remain committed to Johnson and that evaluations from two members negatively skewed the results.

“I think she met our expectations,’’ Groover said. “I think it was a very challenging and difficult year for the school district, particularly around transportation.’’

But he added, “Generally speaking, we feel we are still moving in the right direction under her leadership.’’

Johnson declined an interview request through a spokesman Thursday, instead releasing a statement.

“We are proud of the progress our school district made in the 2011 calendar year,’’ she said. “While there is much to celebrate, we recognize there is also room for improvement in several key areas. Our obligation each day is to serve the students of this city at a very high level. When we don’t meet that obligation, it is our responsibility to make swift changes.’’

Johnson, who arrived from Memphis in 2007, earns $266,750 annually. Through the years, she has repeatedly told the committee she does not want a pay raise or a performance bonus, even in light of good reviews.

This year, the committee appeared willing to offer her a bonus. In a letter to Johnson dated April 10, Groover and Michael O’Neill, the committee’s vice chairman, wrote, “While your performance continues to meet expectations and is deserving of the salary increase and performance bonus specified in your renewed contract . . . we again honor your decision to not accept the increase or bonus due to the continued economic realities.’’

It is unclear how many other members agreed with that assessment. The letter was delivered to the other members only Wednesday night for their consultation, after the School Department discovered last week the letter was never sent, said Groover. At that time, the department was processing the Globe’s public records request.

One member, Mary Tamer, who has two children enrolled in the city’s school system, said Thursday that she did not believe that Johnson’s performance last year was worthy of a bonus. Tamer wrote one of the most critical evaluations of Johnson this year, giving her almost all 3’s and 4’s.

“I don’t recall that conversation ever taking place during the evaluation about whether the performance met expectations and deserves a salary increase and a performance bonus,’’ said Tamer. “I’m surprised to see it’’ in the letter, she said.

The Globe filed its public records request on May 14. The School Department had committee members “review’’ the materials first, and then released them late Wednesday afternoon, hours after a critical City Council vote on a loan order to fund renovations necessary to change some school locations.

The evaluation had been shrouded in secrecy. The committee planned to discuss it in a private session during the second day of a retreat at Northeastern University on Jan. 31, according to a copy of a meeting posting obtained under the public records request.

But on Jan. 30, members discovered that a private discussion would violate the state’s Open Meeting Law and reposted the meeting as a public session, Groover said. No agendas or minutes of the meeting have been available on the School Department’s website. Minutes obtained by the Globe offer only a vague two-sentence summary of the discussion.

Members judge the superintendent in five categories: academic leadership; finance, administration and operations; human capital and talent management; external relations; and relationship with the School Committee. Each of those include subcategories.

The harshest evaluation came from committee member Claudio Martinez, who doled out 4’s across the board.

“Given the general and consistent disregard for my input [verbal and written] and requests for action on key matters of importance to me during the last performance review period, I’m giving the superintendent a 4 on all areas,’’ he wrote in an e-mail on Jan. 29, obtained by the Globe.

Committee member Alfreda Harris was the most generous in her appraisal, giving almost all 1’s and 2’s and writing few comments. She did assign a 4 for transportation. Harris declined to discuss the evaluation, but praised Johnson as hardworking and sincere.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.
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