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By Jim Sigafoos, San Clemente
It is my understanding that you are bringing an employment lawyer in to review the files (related to the dismissal of former San Clemente High School principal Michael Halt) as an “impartial” third party. The question is not whether the termination was legal, of which I have no doubt—it is my understanding that Mr. Halt was an at-will employee. When I asked for a “third party,” I asked for a respected retired superintendent who could evaluate this matter from the perspective of good district-level management. It is still my hope that the district management and the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees will learn something from this fiasco.
The questions you should be asking are as follows:
- Are the reasons supporting Mike Halt’s termination sufficient to offset his obviously stellar performance at SCHS? It is easy to find a person who can play political games but very hard to find a leader who can move a school. Did you trade a leader for a “yes man?” Did the district management blow this very important call?
- Is there any reason justifying Mr. Halt’s early removal, other than a clumsy, politically expedient, attempt to try to avoid the public mess that ensued? This decision was incompetent, as it greatly magnified rather than minimized the public outcry. It was inhumane, in that it needlessly damaged the reputation of a man who rendered great service in his primary job—educating students—whatever his failures were in navigating the Byzantine corridors of the district office. And finally, it was particularly hurtful to the students of San Clemente High School, especially the seniors who have had much of the luster removed from their graduation year events.
I do not believe you can truly answer these questions without having a discussion with Mr. Halt and reviewing the termination documents in his possession. I believe you are subject to being “spun” about meetings with Mr. Halt by district management. I also believe that you are subject to being shown documents that were never provided to Mr. Halt, and which he may well dispute. It is my understanding that the district office has delayed Mr. Halt’s request for a copy of his file, which makes me ask “why?” I don’t like to be a conspiracy theorist, but the district management, by their questionable actions and gross mismanagement, has not earned our trust.
I can still believe in the board, but only if you hear both sides before making a final decision. It is hard for me to see how you can be impartial without hearing both sides.
Finally, I am very dismayed about the climate of fear and intimidation that has descended over the district. By either running off or totally demoralizing our best staff, the district management threatens to transform a formerly high performing district into a dysfunctional district. I believe at this point, our only achievable “wildly important goal” is to not make things worse. That will take bold action by the board. I ask you to start by at least undertaking an investigation of the Halt affair that includes hearing his side.