The PBC school board won’t post Avossa’s job evaluation, so here it is

The front page of Superintendent Robert Avossa’s evaluation

Pretty much everything that the Palm Beach County School Board sees or votes on at its public meetings is published on its website ahead of time – contracts, reports, termination letters, you name it. This is to allow meaningful public oversight of the actions that elected board members take on the public’s behalf.

But there is a notable exception to this policy – the school board’s annual evaluation of the school district’s superintendent, who the board empowers to operate the county’s public schools and oversee the education of more than 190,000 students.

Board members generally say they consider hiring and supervising the superintendent their most important role. Yet not only do school board members bar the public from seeing their written evaluations before they meet to discuss and finalize them, they keep the evaluations off of their website afterward, ensuring they remain mostly out of sight.

Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with 2nd-grade student Sarah Walker, 8, as she eats breakfast at Lincoln Elementary School Monday, August 17, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with a student. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s been this way for years, and this year was no exception. Before the Wednesday school board meeting where the evaluations were approved, reporters from two newspapers asked to see board members’ individual evaluations of Superintendent Robert Avossa.

They were told they couldn’t have them until board members began the evaluation portion of the meeting.

That’s a major deviation from the normal school board practice of posting online all records that board members will review, usually several days in advance.

When the evaluations finally were released mid-meeting Wednesday, they were given only to people who had specifically requested them. Members of the public sitting in the audience did not get a copy.

Then, after the meeting, the evaluations were never posted on the school board’s website, even though materials had been posted online for every other item that the school board considered Wednesday, including memos about pay raises and school improvement plans.

The evaluations are public records, meaning anyone is legally entitled to see them. But to do so, the school district says you have to drive to the school board’s offices in Palm Springs. And, of course, you have to know to ask.

This all but ensures that few people will ever take the trouble to take a close look at what elected school board members have to say about the CEO of one of the country’s largest public school systems.

When we asked why the school board does this, a school district spokeswoman said that it is the board’s longstanding practice. School Board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri, who is running the board meetings while the chairman recovers from surgery, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

As we reported Wednesday, board members’ evaluations of Avossa were overwhelmingly positive. (The school district on Thursday posted a brief news release announcing the overall evaluation results but provided few specifics). All six members gave him a “highly effective” rating and filled their evaluation with compliments and praise, plus a few narrow criticisms.

But that hasn’t always been the case. In February 2014, some board members skewered then-Superintendent Wayne Gent. Barbieri wrote at the time that Gent “seems to go from self-created crisis to self-created crisis.”

That evaluation is not online either.

So we’ve scanned in our copy of this year’s evaluations and posted them online. You can read them by clicking here. It will save you a trip to Palm Springs.

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