By Jonathan Narcisse
Dr. Nancy Sebring will be remembered in Des
Moines for the salacious emails so thoroughly
vetted by media over the past few weeks rather
than her disastrous tenure as superintendent.
Her “crimes” eventually caught up with her,
however, and so I am not interested now in much
more, regarding her, than praying for her healing
and her family’s healing.
Besides, she was an employee of the “directors”
of the Des Moines Public School District, as
we were formally named, and so anything that
happened on her watch — by law, custom and reason
— is ultimately the school board’s responsibility.
For several years, my newspaper, The Communicator,
served as the publication of record for the
Des Moines Public School Board. Following my
election, I was prepared for mountains of meaningless
information designed to overwhelm us by clever
What I found instead was a school board that
had totally abdicated its responsibilities beginning
with its most fundamental duties.
At my very first meeting, directors approved
300 pages of policies and procedures without
reviewing them. Some key policies had not been
updated for a decade or more. Policies, such
as our emergency drill procedures, were outdated
and put the district and individual board members
At my second meeting, I was chastised for asking
about the 600-800 students who had missed 10
or more days of school at one of our district’s
three Dropout Factory High Schools. I was refused
an answer. Later that evening, following a meeting
solely dedicated to giving the Boesen group
— purchasers of Rice Field — a huge cash payout,
I was threatened by Sebring and the directors
with a lawsuit if I didn’t turn over my entire
email list and cease all communications with
Over the next few months, I paid a high price
for exposing wrongs such as the attempt to sell
1800 Grand — insured by taxpayers for $56 million
excluding contents — for $2.9 million to a downtown
developer, and payments to Taylor Ohde Kitchell
for billed time that didn’t exist and illegal
reimbursements. (Bid laws prohibit certain reimbursements
that were not included in the original bid because
if other bidders knew they were available they
could lowball their bids, too. The district
was pinged on this one.)
Closed-door meetings were often held in violation
of the law. One meeting in particular involved
an action so egregious it would likely result
in prosecution of school board members if the
meeting was made public.
During my time on the board, directors did not
read the bills they approved.
Sebring’s revealed emails proved the board ignored
rules in areas like nepotism and reporting at
the Charter School, but their negligence was
a constant during my time on the board.
There was a 19-point drop in the graduation
rate on Sebring’s watch. The board gave her
During her tenure, Johns Hopkins researchers
discovered Des Moines not only had more Dropout
Factory High Schools than all of Iowa’s other
school districts combined (excluding Council
Bluffs) but the same number as Washington, D.C.,
the poster district for poor public education.
When Sebring used district resources to engage
in electioneering, the board members not only
failed to discipline her, they encouraged her.
Following the discovery of Sebring’s sexcapades,
abuse of power and manipulations, the board,
guilty of gross negligence, announced it was
time to move on.
The arrogance of the directors confirms how
clueless they are.
Should they dwell on Sebring’s adventures? No,
except those that “may” have involved staff
or a “close board member” and those relationships
of hers that affected hirings and promotions.
Her sister and friend were not the only incompetents
employed with tax dollars.
Instead of “moving on,” the board must answer
why it ignored so many violations by the Sebring
administration. Unfortunately they don’t get
One overpowering fact remains — Sebring was
our employee. That makes her the footnote not
Once elected, directors take an oath. They violated
their sacred oath, and they ignored and broke
That’s the story — a school board guilty of
CIETC-like negligence, misfeasance, malfeasance,
dereliction of duty, habitual lying and betrayal
of more than taxpayers but our children. CV
Jonathan Narcisse is the editor of the
Iowa Bystander and served as a director on the
board of education for the Des Moines Public