Anti-Heatley campaigners at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Anti-Heatley campaigners at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The pending appointment of Edmond Heatley as superintendent of Berkeley schools has been vocally protested this week by parents and teachers who are concerned about his role in the passage of a resolution in support of Proposition 8 when he was superintendent in San Bernardino County’s Chino Valley school district. But the then-president of the Chino Valley board said yesterday that Heatley was merely putting together an agenda item on his instructions. Proposition 8 sought to outlaw marriage equality in California.

Yesterday, teachers at Oxford Elementary School wrote to the school board “in strong opposition” to the hiring of Heatley: “We write to you today as advocates for ALL students and families. We oppose the hiring of Dr. Heatley, and are appalled that he is the sole finalist for the position of superintendent.” An informal survey on Berkeleyside yesterday had 401 votes (74%) advocating the board withdraw Heatley from consideration, 74 (14%) urging more time for investigation, and 66 (12%) urging that the board keep Heatley as a finalist.

Neither Berkeley school board members nor Heatley responded to Berkeleyside’s requests for interviews. 

The memo from Heatley was part of the agenda packet for the Chino Valley school board. It presented a background to the resolution in support of Prop 8, and asked that the board “take action and give direction to the Superintendent” on the resolution. Michael Calta, president of the Chino Valley school board in 2008, commented on Berkeleyside that the resolution was his, and the agenda memo accompanying it was Heatley’s communication of background provided by Calta.

Calta, who has moved to San Antonio, Texas, spoke to Berkeleyside last night, reiterating his belief that Heatley was not expressing a view in the memo.

“Any role [Heatley] played was to make sure anything that was written in the background corresponded with what I said,” Calta said. “I think he saw this as school board business rather than school district business. It sounds to me, he’s thinking to himself this is school board business, I’m not going to get involved.”

A number of Berkeley observers, however, read Heatley’s covering memo differently.

“A fair reading of that background is it’s written as an argument to persuade the board,” said Ty Alper, Clinical Professor of Law at UC Berkeley Law. Alper established a website on Heatley and Prop 8 on Wednesday. He posted a lengthier analysis of the Heatley memo and Calta’s views there:

It is the “Background” section that tells us what we need to know about Dr. Heatley.  In that section, Dr. Heatley presents an argument that is unmistakably intended to persuade the Board to adopt the resolution in support of Prop 8.  For example, Dr. Heatley notes the number of jurisdictions that have passed laws opposing same sex marriage.  And he notes that “only one other state” has recognized same sex marriage.  There would be no point to these passages other than to persuade the Board that Prop 8 is in line with the national norms.  He then repeats one of the most commonly-heard talking points from the Yes on 8 campaign, that defeat of the initiative would mean school districts will “inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum” in response to a re-definition of marriage.  Finally, he notes that the resolution “recognizes” – not “states,” or “claims” but “recognizes”– that “the ideal learning environment for children is within a nurturing home governed jointly by a mother and a father.”  This is an argument in favor of the resolution.  I don’t see how it could be read any other way.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, also said that the memo did not read like a neutral presentation of background on Prop 8. She particularly highlighted the memo’s discussion of curriculum — “If Proposition 8 is not successful, then school districts throughout California will inevitably be required to adjust their policies and curriculum to align with the Court’s recent redefinition of marriage” — as a “veiled threat”.

Campbell echoed Alper’s concerns by noting “there are lots of ways” administrators can present a resolution that makes clear their wish to distance themselves from the matter.

“This [resolution] wasn’t out of the norm of what school board members would do,” Calta said. “To me it’s not fair to use this against him. There are other issues if you’re going to make a decision.”

One Berkeley resident, who has been deeply involved in local schools and wishes to remain anonymous, wrote to Berkeleyside that the argument that Heatley was not taking a view was not credible:

“Heatley was not obligated to fulfill the request of the board member who was ostensibly the individual bringing forward the resolution in question. Bringing forward a resolution for consideration is itself a political act. Once he had agreed to be the person to bring this resolution forward, Heatley’s options were to recommend it for action or recommend that no action be taken. Having brought the resolution forward, recommending it for action is is effectively an endorsement, recommending that no action be taken would communicate that he did not endorse the resolution. If he had wanted to remain neutral, he should have declined the board member’s request to write the memo bringing the resolution forward and invited the board member to do so himself.”

Heatley opponents have raised other issues about him as well. His training at the Broad Superintendents Academy worries some who see Broad as inextricably connected to a business-driven perspective of education. Heatley also has forged a reputation for making major decisions without much consultation: in Clayton County, Georgia, his current post, he announced a shortened Wednesday schedule just before the start of this school year, and he tried to retroactively implement a conversion of snow days to teacher furlough days. His resignation of his Clayton County post on August 29 — one day before a BUSD delegation was due to arrive to conduct on site due diligence — also remains unexplained.

If Heatley’s appointment is shelved by the Berkeley school board, it will be back to the start of a search process triggered by Bill Huyett’s retirement announcement last DecemberA high-profile, very consultative search led by consultants from Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates produced a short list last spring. But according to sources, the board was deadlocked 3-2 over two finalists in that search and neither side was willing to compromise. In August, the board named two senior BUSD administrators as joint interim superintendents. The surprise announcement of Heatley as the lone finalist — before due diligence was completed and a contract agreed — was made on August 31, in response to news leaking out of Georgia, according to sources.

Superintendent candidate supported Prop 8 in Chino post (09.14.12)
Heatley’s Broad Academy connections attract criticism
Likely new Berkeley school superintendent under scrutiny (09.05.12)
Berkeley school district names likely superintendent (08.31.12)
Berkeley school district names two interim superintendents (08.23.12)
Two interim superintendents to take reins at BUSD (08.16.12)
What does Berkeley want from its new schools head? (03.14.12)
Berkeley schools superintendent Bill Huyett to retire (12.06.11)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...