With Superintendent’s Reported Exit, a New Wave of Uncertainty for OKC Schools

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Neu Forum image2Less than two years ago, Rob Neu arrived from the Seattle area to become superintendent of Oklahoma’s largest school district, Oklahoma City Public Schools.

On Monday, news broke that Neu is planning to resign.

There have been rumors circulating in education circles that Neu might be looking to exit the job. But the sudden disclosure, confirmed by sources first to The Oklahoman and later Oklahoma Watch, still came as a shock. And it added to the uncertainty and instability that has long plagued the school district. Neu is the 10th superintendent to serve the district in 15 years.

Neu’s tenure has been marred by an array of issues and controversies, some of which preceded his arrival: federal civil rights investigations over disparities in discipline, teacher shortages and layoffs, reductions in administrative staff and a controversial charter school expansion plan. He started in July 2014, just before the district began to grapple with effects of a severe state budget crisis.

Being superintendent of a high-poverty, urban school district isn’t easy. Last June, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles resigned amid controversy after three years.

As Neu’s term went on, questions about his permanence in the job lingered because his wife and children never relocated from Washington. He had spent three years as superintendent of the Federal Way school district near Seattle.

Officially, Neu has not resigned; a district spokesman said Neu has not submitted formal resignation paperwork. A special meeting of the Oklahoma City school board has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss Neu’s employment.

Neu could not be reached for comment. He and all but one of the Oklahoma City school board members were attending the National School Boards Association conference in Boston.

Neu’s employment contract runs through June 30, 2017. He’s paid a salary of $240,000 plus benefits, including 35 vacation days and a $10,000 per year vehicle stipend.

When Neu accepted the job in April 2014, he told the Federal Way Mirror that he was “honored” by the offer.

“The energy and the excitement in the city is incredible,” he said. The Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), a series of one-cent tax increases, has rebuilt downtown and renovated the schools. It’s breathtaking to see what has been accomplished. It’s an amazing opportunity for me and my family to be part of such a positive, forward thinking community.”

Oklahoma City school board member Bob Hammack told The Oklahoman later that year, “This is an exciting moment for Oklahoma City Public Schools … While Mr. Neu, like so many of his predecessors, brings new optimism that academics for our students will improve, we can only hope that he can succeed where so many have failed.”

The troubles during Neu’s tenure were perhaps embodied most sharply in his relationship with Ed Allen, the president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers union, which represents 2,800 teachers.

Last week, Allen sent a letter to its union teachers describing issues he believes could cause irreversible harm to the district: disruptive students, budget cuts and converting neighborhood schools into charters.

Allen wrote harshly about Neu’s leadership.

“At this critical time in our district we have a superintendent that leads by dividing, rather than uniting. His main skill is selling himself. His pronouncements are deceptive and illusory; and his goals are unattainable and/or forgettable. We have a mirage leading our district,” Allen wrote.