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Former superintendent forms group to aid school chiefs

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Don Thomas

Don Thomas

Former Salt Lake City schools Superintendent Don Thomas has organized a group aimed at defending public education and supporting district superintendents with funding from his own pockets.

The Public Education Support Group is comprised of superintendents and former superintendents as resource for legal advice, financial help and personal support for school chiefs in a position that is becoming more complicated.

"A superintendent would certainly benefit from help, support and good counsel from other folks," said McKell Withers, current Salt Lake superintendent. "It's a complex job with politically charged events that surround you all the time ... it can be isolating."

Thomas said the group will provide a network of individuals dedicated to helping leaders in those top positions — currently the average tenure for a superintendent is less than three years.

"The position of superintendent has become extremely complicated and more and more difficulties have risen between superintendents and boards of education," said Thomas, who served as Salt Lake superintendent in the late 1970s and early '80s and was also an education adviser to three governors. "Often they have difficulty getting along with each other and making decisions, and, therefore, there is greater conflict between the two."

The other primary objective of the organization lies in defending public education — which Thomas said has come under constant fire. They plan to hold conferences, workshops and provide consultation services for school boards and citizen advisory boards.

"We want to tell the full story that public education is an essential ingredient of an effective democracy," Thomas said. "We want to publish papers, give speeches and do whatever we can to enhance public support for public education and to come back to critics who are irresponsible in their criticism for public education ... in reality it has been a shining success."

The group's funding is provided by Thomas himself, and he said he will accept about 200 members into the organization who are nominated by Thomas, a board member or another member of the group.

"The time has come for education leaders to defend our schools," said Thomas. "We cannot allow the critics to destroy public confidence in our system of tax-supported education."

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com