Storey County superintendent had tough past in schools
Appeal Staff Writer
Dr. Robert Slaby’s cadre of followers shadow him like a plague – their many e-mails claim he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing who will lead the Storey County School District financially astray.
Slaby, superintendent of Storey County schools since June, will not be discouraged. He says he came back to Northern Nevada to seize the opportunity to become superintendent – what he describes as the greatest job in the world.
“You touch the future,” he explained.
Slaby, who was principal of Carson High School from 1980-86, was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley when the Storey County job opened.
He had been having difficulty finding a new superintendent job in California. Newspaper clippings from his previous job followed him wherever he went. He doesn’t know who sent them.
A look through clippings about his last two superintendent jobs show that Slaby’s contract with the Salinas City Elementary School District ended early in December 2004 amid allegations of financial mismanagement; and that the school board from his previous job in the Shasta Unified High School District fired him in 1997.
“When you crack eggs and make omelets, you create change,” he said.
Sherree Brown, a former business manager in the Salinas district, said she approached Slaby about deficit problems there and was ignored.
“There were directions (from him) to spend money in areas that were questionable and there were many cases where areas were overspent and grants were overspent or spent inappropriately,” she said. “On top of that, they were overstaffed. You pull all of that together and the district ended up slowly starting to get into financial decline.”
By the time Slaby left Salinas, the district had received an unsatisfactory budget rating from the Monterey County Office of Education
“They encroached seriously into (the reserves),” said Dr. Bill Barr, superintendent for the Monterey County Office of Education. “When your program expenses exceed your income you have to drop into that reserve. That’s not what it’s allowed for. It’s set up for economic uncertainties.”
Slaby said the budget problem didn’t occur on his watch. Up to the year before his contract ended, every budget he signed had been balanced, he said. It was after he became a lame duck that budget problems arose.
“There was a huge deficit all of a sudden,” he said. “I did not sign it. I did not approve it. Since December ’03, I did not sign any school budget for the Salinas City School District.”
Much of the spending in the Salinas district, which has 15 elementary schools, revolved around $3 million spent to purchase land for a new school. Boronda Meadows Elementary opened this past summer.
Slaby said with the purchase of that property he was achieving what former superintendents had talked about for years. Detractors said there was no funding for the land at the time and that the property should have been sold back.
Steve Malvini, a member of the board, claims teachers wanted the money for increases in salaries.
“When Rob came to the district in July of ’96, the board told him that we were looking for change,” he said. “Our district academically had not been performing well. And he told that board at the time, ‘If you want change, you’ll get change. But just remember if we facilitate change, you’re going to start hearing a lot of screaming from teachers and employee groups.'”
The California State Department of Education did not return calls about student achievement scores during the time of Slaby’s watch. Results Slaby provided indicate that every school improved academically during his tenure, with the highest increase 78 percent at El Gabilan Elementary.
A 2001 letter from the state superintendent of public instruction recognizes Slaby for increased student achievement at Title I schools.
“What you have achieved is no small accomplishment,” wrote state superintendent Delaine Eastin. “You have demonstrated in outstanding fashion the vital role that districts must play in providing vision, leadership, accountability for results and access to technical assistance …. Your efforts are making a powerful difference in the lives and learning of your students.”
Also while Slaby was superintendent in Salinas, a grand jury, which annually audits county spending, alleged school district misappropriations in three areas: an outside consultant, grant money and a trip to Ecuador. No penalties were levied, and the audit recommended the school board pay close attention before approving district expenditures.
Prior to Salinas, Slaby was superintendent of the Shasta Unified High School District from 1994-1997. His contract was terminated two months after a satisfactory evaluation from board members, although an election had changed the makeup of the board. Teachers also had issued a no-confidence vote.
Slaby, who said he was never given a reason for his firing, put teachers unions and politics at the root of his problems. Victor Valdez, a teacher at the time, backed up Slaby’s claims about political posturing.
“The new board voted him out,” said the retiree. “And they spearheaded that with a gal (who came on the board). The new board changed things. They did some severe lobbying against Rob Slaby so that the principal of a school where this gal’s husband was vice principal could come in. It was a total setup.”
Months later, the principal was superintendent, the vice principal was principal and the woman resigned from the board because of a conflict of interest.
Valdez said he’d still be teaching in the district were Slaby still there. He liked that Slaby believed in technology, even though one of Slaby’s pet projects, an alternative school-to-work program, closed after Slaby left due to questions about funding.
“I believed strongly in Rob Slaby and his futuristic ideas about education,” said Valdez. “The bottom line was he did the best for the kids. Regardless of all the political issues, the best thing about Rob Slaby was that he always said he wanted to do what was best for the kids. That always blew me away.”
Storey County School Board of Trustees say they questioned Slaby extensively about his last two superintendent jobs prior to his hiring.
School Board President Pamela Smith said they were satisfied with his responses and found him to be the best candidate for the job.
– Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.