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The sniff test & search for next leader of MUSD
letter to editor

Did Manteca mayoral candidate Ben Cantu win last Tuesday night?

(More on that another time…)

There are four current and Manteca-centric thoughts constantly bouncing around in my head these days. This is a first of a series of, “Huh?” columns entitled, “Thoughts and Ponderables.”

“Part 1: The Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees’ Hoodwink”

Since my return to the Central Valley in 2012, I — a product of Manteca schools and former educator with MUSD — noticed with great pride, the progression and calculated risks that superintendent Jason Messer took while at the helm of the Manteca Unified School District.

His leadership efforts really helped the district grow, improve, and maintain its sustainability considering the various external forces, such as fiscal issues a few years ago, a building boom, etc.

I guess I can use past tense since Messer gave his notice to resign a few weeks ago.

When Messer left, he vacated the position as one of the longest sitting large school district superintendents in California.

His departure, however, does not pass my sniff test.

(Disclosure: I really do not know Jason Messer. I had a very brief conversation with him in 2013.)

First, Messer resigned. He is not retiring. He reportedly does not have any future employment.



Note: The tenure of school district superintendents nationwide usually travels one of three possible routes: 1) retire; 2) get fired; and/or, 3) career climb to next superintendent position.

Messer did not go down any of those routes.


Secondly, there was no effort from his current boss – the collective members of the MUSD Board of Trustees (more on that word, trustees, later) – to keep him on the job, to ask why is he really leaving, to communicate, to extend value by keeping him on the job. Nope. Just vague party line statements by the trustees who publicly commented in the local media.


Any quality “boss” would do what it takes to keep high quality, performing employees, especially as the district’s top official who has performed like Messer has. But all we hear on the matter are the sounds of crickets from the Board of Trustees (again, more on that word, trustees, later).

So, what does the “boss” do? (Remember, the boss in this case is the collective members of the board of trustees.) The trustees are allowing Messer to leave without convincing him to stay on during the most crucial time of the school year (May/June) and the end of the fiscal year approaching (June 30). Bottom line: It is the worst time for a change in school district leadership, folks.


Moreover, tonight at the MUSD Board meeting, the trustees (a word defined as to an individual or individuals entrusted in something, namely our taxpayer dollars in this case) are considering hiring a search firm to replace Messer and the search firm finalists appear to be, based on the posted agenda, Leadership Associates or the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

There are a couple of things at play with tonight’s agenda item:

1) Again, this is the worst time of the year to find a school district superintendent;

2) The only available school district superintendent candidates are ones not selected for other school district superintendent openings during the annual “sweet spot” for school district superintendent hiring – January-March;

3) Southern California-based Leadership Associates already has candidates “in its stables” that it will prioritize for a Board’s consideration; and,

4) The San Joaquin County Office of Education is a supposed to be a politically-based service provider for MUSD (and other districts in the county) and it wants to charge a hefty fee for its search service (which will be facilitated online by a system MUSD already pays for annually).


In a nutshell, MUSD, a technology-rich school district, is planning to take a huge step backward by using a search firm, including SJCOE, while it already has a solution in place – the internet subscription service MUSD already pays SJCOE on an annual basis. Plus, MUSD has the professional and high-quality personnel in place to manage all applications submitted via the SJCOE-created internet service:

Moreover, and what is equally disturbing, MUSD has two Deputy Superintendents. The trustees employed those two individuals in case there was an absence of the Superintendent. Well, here we have a permanent absence forthcoming and the trustees are about to tell those two Deputy Superintendents how much they value them by not immediately considering them for Messer’s replacement.

Why would the two Deputy Superintendents remain with MUSD with that vote of no confidence from their employers – the trustees?

Why would members of the MUSD Personnel Department stick around with that vote of no confidence from their employers – the trustees?

Why would any employee of MUSD stick around?

While the trustees will decide tonight to spend thousands of dollars to secure a search firm for something that was avoidable, I ask the trustees one question: Knowing what I shared, above, if those dollars came out of your personal pocket instead of taxpayers’ pockets would you still use a search firm?