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Board Extends School Superintendent's Contract Despite Community Objections

BOEJune2021Disregarding vocal community opposition, the outgoing Board of Education approved an extension to the School Superintendent’s contract, including a bonus and raise, at their final meeting of the 2020-21 school year. Under the new agreement, the Superintendent’s salary will increase by 2.75% to $356,543 per year and he will receive $5,000 on July 1, 2021. The new agreement extends his three year contract to four years, to end on June 30, 2025.

Residents only became aware of the memorandum when the board meeting agenda appeared online earlier in the day.

The Memorandum of Agreement’s position on the Consent Agenda precluded any discussion, so the contract would have been approved along with a long list of other perfunctory resolutions. By definition, “a consent agenda is a board meeting practice that groups routine business and reports into one agenda item. The consent agenda can be approved in one action, rather than filing motions on each item separately. Using a consent agenda can save boards anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour. A consent agenda moves routine items along quickly so that the board has time for discussing more important issues.”

During public comments some came to the high school to make their thoughts known and others called in via Zoom.

Speaking first, Roger Neustadt stated what many others echoed later on. He said, “The election is over and the voters have spoken. There are a few conclusions you can draw. First, to the current Board, the results are meaningful. Voters had a choice between endorsing the approach of the past year, under current leadership, or voicing their preference for a change. Their voice should be heard loud and clear. The approach of the past year was not supported by a majority of the voters. That is a fact, not subject to interpretation as the current Vice-President did not garner enough support to remain on the Board. Regardless of the specific topic or approach, maintenance of the status quo was rejected. Please respect the voters, who chose not to re-elect current leadership, and make no significant decisions today before the current term ends. To do so would be to replace your judgment for that of the electorate, the Oxford definition of authoritarianism - “lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others.” The majority of “others” have spoken with their votes. You were not elected to cram a significant decision into the last meeting of the current term. You were elected to represent us, not replace your judgment for ours."

"The Board President is tasked with selecting items for the consent agenda. Her term is soon over. She will leave the Board forthwith. Despite this Ms. Fuehrer is seeking to extend the superintendent’s contract one additional year. This is a violation of the public trust. We have elected two new Board members and rejected the leadership of Ms. Singer. Again, that is factual. By electing Jessica and Jim, we have expressed our desire to have them included in major decisions regarding our schools. They may not agree with my opinion, which I will purposefully not share, but that is democracy. By extending Thomas’s contract by one year, the Board will remove Jessica and Jim from impactful discussion of superintendent performance. This is precisely the type of decision they were elected for. I hope that you will recall the action of two years ago when the current Board extended Thomas’s contract for a total of 5 years. The just elected Board members, three of whom sit there today, felt that was wholly inappropriate and the decision should have been held until they were sworn in. I hope your memories are not that short."

"The most pressing questions is why? There are three years left on the superintendent’s contract. What is the urgency to extend his contract now, today? Once again, I will not opine on Thomas’s performance as that is truly not the concern here. The timing is suspect. Board members have just been elected, and are about to take office, but their voice may be muted before they even arrive."

"The voters have spoken and it is time for our Board to listen.”

Following Neustadt, there were a steady stream of comments in agreement.

Among them were Will Brennan who said, “If this item was considered and passed it would do only more to break down trust at the local level.” Shirley Salmeron said, “We have had issues with the community feeling disenfranchised.” She asked the board to “Think critically about the feedback you have received from parents.” Jereny Gans said, “I urge the board to table this so that it can be considered by the future board. It should also be removed from the consent agenda so it can be discussed and the public can hear the rationale for any decision that is made.”

Claire Paquin said, “I am feeling a lot of mistrust. You are supposed to represent the community. How do you represent us if you don’t allow us to engage? This last minute addition to the agenda seems suspicious. We don’t need to do this tonight. This is not good oversight.
This is not transparent. It is not what the community wants. The lack of transparency and communication has been abysmal. Open it up to the community. Let’s hear what they have to say about administrators who have not been transparent.”

David Benderson said, “This should not be on the consent agenda. There should be an opportunity for the stakeholders to speak. There is no necessity to extend a contract. There should be performance evaluations. This could lead to votes of no confidence and recalls.”

Stephanie Patch urged the board to “Wait on decisions regarding contracts and staffing to allow detailed governance and review.”

Irin Israel asked the board to take a clear look and “state why they think this is important at this time.”

Robert Berg called in from the New Orleans airport. He said, “I rarely agree with Roger (Neustadt) or Jeremy (Gans.) I am flabbergasted that the board has put the contract extension of the superintendent and the physician on the consent agenda. It is an abuse of the positions of the outgoing board members. It is not good governance.”

Anirudh Bansal said, “The community has roundly rejected the way things went. The board has not allowed sufficient time for the community to comment.”

Melissa Pecullan said, “I object to the last minute addition of these contracts to the agenda.”

Kate Delorenzo said, “This last minute addition erodes trust. Though its procedurally okay it is not in good faith. It makes me feel blindsided and disrespected.”

Sarah Bell Wechsler said, “We chose you to make decisions for us based on what is best.
Our elected reps are not in the room. Jessica and Jim are not in the room – it is not fair to make personnel decisions without them. We want good governance. We want to all agree… that people are coming together on this shows that.”

Judith Eforo said, “Right now we need leadership. We don’t need someone to take over the ship. We don’t need a mutiny. I believe you have an obligation to the people who elected you
There is no emerging situation here. I object it to being placed on the consent agenda and I would ask the committee to take this off the agenda. This procedurally does not belong here.”

Christine Weston said, “Summer is here. We should all be able to trust our board to tie up the year easily and quickly. We should not have to monitor the board. It’s ridiculous and we should not have to do this.”

Jonathan Lemley expressed his “displeasure with the last minute addition to the consent agenda.” He said, “it lacks transparency and can create mistrust. Dozens reached out to me this afternoon to discuss this. An individual has a contract extended in the middle of a term, without getting input from the community at large… is this needed? The Pandemic has caused acrimony and fracturing of our community in regard to the schools. This will get worse if we pass this. We should be working toward bringing this community together.

Board of Education President Pam Fuehrer defended the new contract. She explained, “This was not a last minute addition to the consent agenda. This is on the agenda every year at the end of the year. These agreements are always on the consent agenda as they are a right and responsibility of the board. Any changes to the executive agreements go on the consent agenda.”

“We receive an entire year of input from the entire school community. We hear about assessments, facilities, food service and every area of operations and management of this district for a full year. That goes into an entire year’s evaluation process. The template is posted online by law. There are 29 professional practices. One of our most important responsibilities is to assess a superintendent on these 29 practices. All of the input we received was discussed and considered. We are required to do this work. We are certainly not required to make any changes, but if we do, they go on the Consent Agenda. This is best practice. This is a board decision, not a public decision. It would make no sense to have a new board make this evaluation.”

Carl Finger concurred, saying, “Pam, you outlined the process we go through.” He then read a long list of factors the board considers when evaluating the superintendent, including: Implementation of the strategic plan, the facilities plan, the professional development plan, performance goals, use of formative assessments, graduation rates, the percentage of student attending college, student performance goals and more.

He said, “The board evaluates the success of the cabinet, principals and assistant principals and collective bargaining, agreements with other organizations and participation in community events. It evaluates communications including newsletters, and efforts to build consensus and outreach.”

He continued, “in this last year, we specifically looked at the strategic plan and implementation, education reports, the focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and leveraging of communication opportunities. We looked at professional development alignment with the strategic plan, and at the quality and performance of the cabinet and the principals and assistant principals. He said, “this is an ongoing and thorough evaluation that we have been doing since I got on the board. When we look at the superintendents contract, it is a reflection of all of that. It is disconcerting obviously to hear people object to the way we are making this decision, but it is our responsibility to make the decision. It is dangerous to start ascribing a community instruction based on an election result. We were elected to do this evaluation and to look at what’s best for the students.”

“I understand that it feels like we are doing it at our last meeting. I was initially surprised but I tried to keep an open mind and understand. It is not the last minute. It would not make sense to make these decisions in a few months with people who have not gone through the process. We have plans, goals and directions that we have given to the Superintendent and the cabinet. I am comfortable with this because I think it’s the right thing for the students and I hope you can understand that. I have to use my best judgment. I made the motion and support the motion. There are so many good things happening here that got lost. If passed, this will provide stability that will benefit the community.”

Amber Yusuf said, “We have received input but heard that communication could be better. I am not sure how we address that.”

Bob Klein said, “I feel a responsibility to explain how I came to my conclusion. For me, it’s simple. What is in the best interest of the students? What is in the best interest of delivering the goals that are in place. There is sincere passion out there in the community. How much is out there, I don’t know. I hope people will be respectful.”

Board Member Ron Schulhof moved for the memorandum to be removed from the consent agenda and voted on separately. When the motion was voted upon, it passed with four yes votes from Fuehrer, Singer, Finger and Klein. Yusuf abstained, Schulhof voted no and Ceske was not at the meeting.

Other Agreements:

Non-union administrators including the cabinet, received a similar agreement to Dr. Hagerman’s, with a 2.75% salary increase for the coming year and one time payments of $5,000 in July 2021. 

In addition to the superintendent’s agreement, Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick announced that the district had reached agreements with several more groups through collective bargaining, and these agreements were shared in the agenda and agreed up by the Board:

A three year agreement with the teachers provides for a 1.7% increase in the first year, and then an increase of 1.25% to 1.750% in years two and three using a Salary Range Adjustment Model dependent on the CPI and the change in contribution to the Teacher’s Retirement System. 

Principals and Assistant Principals have similar salary increased and will also receive bonuses for longevity after 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years of service.

The secretaries will receive a 1.7% increase in year one, 1.7% in year 2, 1.6% in year 3 and 1.5% in year 4.

Last, the District Physician, who came under fire from some during this past year, received a renewal of his contract. Dr. Louis Corsaro will be paid $35,000.

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