Johns appears to be well qualified. He will surely earn his new salary -- an increase of some $32,000, or 36 percent, over what he was paid previously.
The school needs strong leadership following a tumultuous few months. The principal brought in from out-of-state after last year's national search abruptly resigned as something resembling a staff and parent revolt began to take shape in response to his leadership, or lack thereof.
Johns has the credentials, and the district followed its normal procedures in his selection. The problem isn't Johns. We all hope he is up to the job.
The problem is the school board's governance model. It provides scant oversight of the superintendent, and district policies and procedures do not do enough to prevent problems that could arise from potential conflicts of interests.
In reporting Johns' appointment, this newspaper pointed out Johns is the boyfriend of Nina Rasmusson, Superintendent Nancy Sebring's twin sister. Moreover, Johns and Rasmusson own a home together in Ames. The paper reminded readers that Rasmusson was similarly named to head the district's charter school last year.
The district drafted a response to Johns' hiring, explaining a committee of six teachers and an administrator interviewed three candidates and recommended two to the selection committee.
The selection committee, consisting of six teachers, two community members, two support staff members, and Bryce Amos, the executive director of the district's northeast region, ultimately selected Johns. Sebring sat in as a nonvoting member.
There was no word if the superintendent asked questions, made recommendations or winked at the committee during key moments of the meetings.
Amos reassured the Register the committee -- not Sebring -- had the final call when it came to selecting Johns. He dismissed any conflict with, "There's other employees in the district that have relationships with each other. There was no pause at all when that decision was made."
I bet Amos didn't pause, nor is it surprising he didn't have strong feelings about nepotism. His wife, Sherry, was named principal of McKinley Elementary last year. It is reasonable to assume Amos would have gotten an odd look from his boss if, while sitting across the table from nonvoting-member Sebring, he had suggested nepotism should disqualify her sister's partner.
According to the district statement, Sebring told the staff at East, "One of the finalists may be someone in a relationship with her sister." I will assume the selection committee even knew which finalist had the relationship. Of course, one could argue the disclosure of the relationship may have helped Johns more than it hurt. Sometimes disclosure does not remove the conflict -- it shines a little light on it.
The district wanted to stress that Johns is qualified and his tenure at North marked a turnaround for the school, but it went too far. The district statement noted the uptick in this year's testing results at North as evidence. It is unclear what a vice principal and activities director can do to increase the collective score of an entire student body in math, science and reading in his one year on the job, but let's not get sidetracked by that now.
An isolated case of nepotism is to be expected among 5,000 employees. However, it is a little hard to believe that in about a year's time the twin sister of the superintendent, the sister's partner and the wife of the guy to whom the partner will report is each a special case.
For a school board that adopted a governance model limiting its oversight of management decisions, primary responsibility for ensuring the integrity of how the district hires and how employees are managed falls entirely to the superintendent. When the superintendent repeatedly sits in the room and witnesses others select and then supervise her relatives and the relatives of her subordinates, it is understandable why some begin to raise questions.
Instead of firing off defensive statements about their actions, the superintendent and staff need to avoid the appearance of conflict in the first place. Sebring and her staff are unable to be both the managers of a public institution and the sole arbitrators of what is proper. The school board and the public must do so. The first step would be for the school board to accept more responsibility for governing and setting school policies.