Put school district under glass

Washoe County Superintendent of Schools Pedro Martinez should resign, and if he doesn’t, he should be fired. But that’s not likely to happen because most of his bosses—the members of the Washoe County School Board—were in on the act.

Martinez fired schools police chief Mike Mieras without cause on June 27. He made no public announcement of it, though he had surreptitiously planned the firing with secret serial meetings with selected school board members, raising open meeting questions.

We use the term “without cause” because that’s the way Martinez has described it in interviews with journalists. He keeps praising Mieras, even while sliding in the shiv between the lines.

Because of Mieras’s unblemished record, the firing generated rumors all over town of a hidden scandal, rumors that became so pronounced that Martinez rushed to stamp it out before it became actionable—“There’s a lot of rumors: Is there something he did wrong in the past? Something related to Sparks Middle? None of that is the case. I have nothing but respect for Chief Mieras.”

In a statement to KOLO News about the chief, Martinez seemed to hint, without actually saying so, that the schools climate is unsafe because of Mieras: “I have learned the hard way, you know, with all the incidents we have had in the last 12 months, that we cannot minimize the role of safety in a building. The reality is children cannot learn if they don’t feel safe.”

Other of the superintendent’s public statements raise further questions. Martinez has said he wants to know about the size of the force and where officers are assigned. Why did he need to remove the chief in order to have that inquiry?

Martinez: “So again, going back to the reason we made this decision to transition Chief Mieras, we wanted somebody to come in with a fresh perspective.” Then why wasn’t the chief returned to duty at a lower level? What Martinez did was remove him from the system altogether, destroying his previously untarnished career.

District sources by the dozen have been leaking information, reluctant to go public—suggesting that Martinez has created an unhealthy climate of fear. Many of those sources have the same view, that Martinez wants only department heads who agree with him, and Mieras did not fill the bill. They also say the talk of departmental “restructuring” is a blind behind which the firing took place.

Martinez secretly informed most of the school board members in advance but excluded at least one of them. That kind of favoritism and manipulation of his superiors alone should result in Martinez being fired, and the willingness of the members who were in the know to go along with this seamy procedure should be remembered by voters in the future.

The firing of a department head is different from the firing of a rank and file worker. The public has a big stake in it and should have been informed what was planned. There was no announcement, no hearing in advance. Instead it all happened in a figurative dead of night, the firing notice slipped under a door, the messenger running away, then the public kept ignorant for several days.

One thing that should result from this mess is that the board and the superintendent should be under more scrutiny in the future by parent groups and journalists. The superintendent and some board members have shown they cannot be trusted.