I was speaking with a board director this week about the program placement policy and the director candidly acknowledged that the superintendent violated the policy in 2011 and the board (this was the previous board) allowed it because they saw their role as facilitating the superintendent and not as constrainting her. Enforcing policy would have been a constraint. In 2012 they couldn't enforce the policy because sh had already announced her intention to leave and they had no means of managing her. This board director flatly stated what everyone already knows: the board's only meaningful management tool over the superintendent is the threat of termination. They have nothing short of that.
They can't cut the superintendent's pay. They can't deny a bonus. The superintendent is at the top of the career ladder, so they can't deny a promotion. They can't demote the superintendent either. If they take responsibilities away from the superintendent or overrule the superintendent they will be accused of micro-managing. If they speak ill of the superintendent's job performance they will be in trouble for trashing "the district". They can't even damage the superintendent's prospects following their career at Seattle Public Schools.
Each of the last four SPS superintendents, none of whom did well here, went on to jobs elsewhere. Joseph Olchefske fostered a dysfunctional culture and lost track of $32 million and went on to a further career in education (despite having no prior experience in education before SPS). Raj Manhas utterly failed to fulfill any of the executive duties and openly opposed the Board and is now the superintendent in another district (despite having no prior experience in education before SPS). Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson lied so much and so badly that even a do-nothing board was moved to fire her, but she took her one year's salary as severance and got a high profile job in Michigan. Even Susan Enfield, who had no real track record here (or anywhere else), was a hot property when she left the Seattle superintendent job.
This is a real can't-fail opportunity. What would you do with such a position? There are three paths I can think of:
1. Do nothing and wait till they notice. This is what Raj Manhas did. Seriously, it will take them nearly three years to figure out that you're not doing anything. He must have sat in his office playing solitaire on his computer for three years.
2. Do nothing but try to keep them from noticing by creating the illusion of action. Start a bunch of plans, knowing that you don't have to actually implement any of them. Remember that you can really stretch that one out by taking nine months to "gather information", then spend another nine months "developing" the plan. The Plan can even include a year or more of "planning" as the initial action steps. If you work it right you can spend five years just getting a five-year plan ready. By that time it will be obsolete and you can start the planning process all over. Move some pieces around on the chess board - relocate some programs, re-organize the central administration, just superficial changes. Announce a list of "aspirational" goals, knowing that you don't have to actually reach any of them (or even really make a sincere effort to reach any of them). You could even claim to have achieved some; Joseph Olchefske announced that Seattle had completed the transition to a standards-based district. While you don't actually do much of anything, right or wrong, it looks like you're doing a lot. In truth, you're just keeping the wheels rolling, responding to the crises as they arise, and hoping that no one notices that nothing real is getting done. This is what Joseph Olchefske, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, and Dr. Enfield did. You can keep them fooled for up to five years this way, but the absence of management will eventually show through the facade.
3. Exercise your license to create radical change. I include this in the list mostly because it is, theoretically, possible, not because I think anyone would actually try it. Radical change would include such things as actually creating inclusive classrooms, actually creating schools that work for students, actually providing equitable access to quality programs and services, actually bringing real management to the district, actually empowering teachers, principals, counselors, IAs, librarians, nurses, and the rest of the staff to do their jobs and actually requiring them to do them. This option is on the list, but let's remember that choosing this one would be a lot of work and it wouldn't bring any advantage to the person who tries it.