Interim St. Paul superintendent not just a 'seat warmer'

- One day after Valeria Silva’s ouster as St. Paul Schools superintendent, her interim replacement began his new, temporary job.

John Thein, who retired after 17 years as superintendent in Roseville, was lured back to work, making clear that while he doesn’t want the job permanently, he plans to take it very seriously.

“When I agreed to do this I said I would not be a seat warmer,” said Thein at his introductory news conference.  “I’m not here just to hold down a chair. I’m here to work with staff.”

Silva was fired Tuesday night, but with more than two years remaining on her contract, it became a very expensive buyout for the district. When you add in unused vacation and pension and health insurance, the total approaches $800,000.

Silva will still be an employee, agreeing to remain as a consultant, though what she will actually do is unclear, and Thein wasn’t sure yet, either.
‘That really hasn’t been addressed yet,” he said, ‘but I’m sure my phone and door will always be open to anybody that wants to give good advice. And she has a lot of it.”

Silva had come under increasing fire over the last year over concerns about classroom safety.  After a high school teacher was assaulted in December while trying to break up a fight at Central High School, the teacher’s union even threatened a strike, filing for mediation.

But the way Silva’s departure came about prompted what appeared to be an abrupt resignation by one board member immediately after the vote to fire the superintendent.  Jean O’Connell, a Silva supporter, told Fox 9 that her decision had been brewing for months, as she watched other members work behind the scenes to push Silva out.

“In mid-April I discovered two of our board members had had individual conversations with the superintendent,” O’Connell said in an interview Wednesday, “and that contract discussions were happening. None of the rest of the school board members knew about it at that time.”

O’Connell believes that any move to change leadership should involve the whole board, not just some of them, and believes it should be a transparent process for the public, too.  More than that, she believes it makes no sense to let Silva go now and continue to pay here when Silva was planning to retire in two years anyway.  She hopes her resignation isn’t seen as throwing in the towel, but a message to the community that they need to keep a close eye on what her former colleagues do from here.

“I’ve got grandchildren who are and will be in this school district. I’ve got as much in the game as anybody else in the community. I want to make sure these schools are good for our kids for the long term.”

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