With schools struggling to hire teachers and pay for supplies to educate our children, a fundraising group's paying an East Bay high school principal $40,000 above his salary to administer a small program goes beyond the pale.

Sadly, our public school system has become dependent on private donations to supplement tax funds and ensure elective and after-school programs continue. So parents must feel confident that their contributions of hard-earned dollars will be well-spent.

That's not what happened at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, where the Parent Faculty Club paid Principal John McMorris $40,000 over two years ostensibly to run the Model United Nations program.

Northgate High School Principal John McMorris in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Tuesday Dec. 8, 2009. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff archives)
Northgate High School Principal John McMorris in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Tuesday Dec. 8, 2009. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff archives)

For perspective: The Northgate Model U.N. program has 12 regular members. The typical stipend for leading the program is less than $1,000 a year. The $40,000 McMorris received could have paid most of a starting teacher's salary for an entire year.

The Parent Faculty Club payments supplemented McMorris' annual $108,602 salary from the district. McMorris already receives good compensation because he holds an administrative post, one in which he should engage with students and faculty before and after school without extra payments.

Then there's the inherent conflict of interest. McMorris sits as a vice president on the executive committee of the Parent Faculty Club. He says he recused himself from voting on the payments, as if that makes it all OK.


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How comfortable would other committee members feel voting against payments to the principal of the school where their children attend or they work? Principals wield power over children's schooling and teachers' careers and must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

They should also demonstrate clear understanding of ethical lines. We're unimpressed by McMorris' excuse that former Superintendent Steven Lawrence approved the deal. That McMorris even needed to seek approval should have told him this didn't pass the smell test.

As for Lawrence, whom the school board fired last year, he had his own ethical issues, misrepresenting a costly bond deal to voters, then working behind the scenes with a company that stood to benefit from the bond, accepting drinks and soliciting free golf deals. In some ways, the McMorris deal is even worse because it placed significant cash directly in his pocket.

Finally, there's the Parent Faculty Club board, which buried the expenditure in its budget as a payment to the Model U.N. program, without mention that it was going directly to McMorris.

For the sake of the club, for the sake of his own credibility with students and faculty, McMorris should give the money back -- now.