Contracts, hires under fire from school board

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Board members ask for documents in advance

Staff Writer

TELL CITY – Approval of principal contracts and proposed new hires within the Tell City School Corp. Tuesday prompted expressions of concern from board members.

The two-year contracts included no changes to salaries or fringe benefits, Superintendent Lynn Blinzinger said. He added that benefits and salaries could change after negotiations with teachers end.

But the timeframe in which board members had to review the terms presented much of the reason for hesitation in signing.

Board member Sherri Flynn said she would not vote against the contracts but expressed displeasure for not having issued documents in a timely fashion.

“I have a hard time approving a half-million dollars in contracts without first having a chance to review them,” she said.

According to Flynn, proposed contracts developed by the administration were not included in school-board-member information packets and were made available the day of the meeting.

She went on to commend the leaders of each school and said the school corporation has “rock stars for principals and vice principals.” She felt the corporation should pay its school’s administrators “what they are worth … and pay them now” and not make the pay based on other teachers’ salaries.

Flynn added other schools of similar size haven’t yielded the positive results in performance accomplished within the Tell City school system and local principals’ salaries should reflect their strides in education.

Member Randy Cole agreed and said he couldn’t sign a contract he hadn’t seen.

“That’s how errors get made. That’s how superintendents up in Indianapolis end up with a $1 million bonus, because school boards sign things like that,” he said. “We need the documents to be able to review them.”

Members also felt it would have been beneficial to meet in an executive session to discuss finer points of proposed contracts.

Approval of the contracts couldn’t have been made in executive session, but according to Flynn it would have offered a time to review them and ask questions.

Discussion prompted the board to consider tabling approval and plan an executive session. However, a motion to accept the contracts was presented after the superintendent made the recommendation and passed by a 3-2 vote. Blinzinger said there was no rush to make a decision since the current principal contracts are valid through the 2013-14 school year. The board will meet in executive session to give contracts further review.

Board President Mack Cail said the closed session will help them give “due diligence” to the issue and “know exactly what we’re signing.”

Contracts will be re-addressed during the board’s July meeting.

The board also approved hiring former North Spencer School Corp. employee Erica Wetzel as a fourth-grade teacher, first-year teachers John Latta for third grade and Cassie Baumeister for special needs and transferred Joyce Stath from her current position in the elementary school to the junior-high English department.

The prospective teachers were interviewed by the principals and recommended to the superintendent.

Flynn again offered displeasure for not having documents identifying who the corporation had recommended for the positions. She said through conversations with several citizens, much of the community was already aware of who was to be selected but the board was in the dark about the issue.

“It’s embarrassing to me as a school-board member when I don’t have the information,” she said. “Out of respect for the principals, and knowing that they make the best choices (available), I will vote to approve tonight, but I don’t appreciate not knowing when the rest of the community knew.”

Flynn said a notice was sent by e-mail the day of the meeting but she felt that is insufficient time for review. She also took exception to Facebook posts, which  Flynn said identified one teacher who already knew of her hiring as early as June 6.

Much of the consternation originated from the transfer of Stath. According to Blinzinger, the English teacher’s new position, by policy, didn’t need board approval and was facilitated as an administrative function since she was already employed in the school system.

“The reason she knew ahead of time was so we could get started on filling that position at William Tell,” he continued.

The extent to which the public was informed of the hires went well beyond Stath’s transfer, Cole said. He added that citizen reports given to him were “pretty accurate on the names.”

Also, a proposed hire that caused concern for several board members was that of John Hays, who was hired to serve as the girls varsity basketball coach.

Hays formerly coached the boys’ basketball team for eight seasons. Despite a string of winning seasons, he ended his tenure with an overall losing record.

Flynn felt the hire short-sold what the girls team could accomplish and portrayed a lack of respect to that program.

“We need to ask ourselves, would we bring this person back tomorrow as the boys varsity basketball coach? I won’t ask the board or the administration that because I already know what the answer is,” Flynn said. “As a woman, I’m offended that we would put someone in a position that we would not for the boys team. The girls should be equal in status to the boys.”

She went on to say that a female who played basketball for Tell City and went on to play four years collegiately was passed over by the athletic department.

Hays was selected from several candidates interviewed by the athletic department and recommended to the board.

Board member Dr. Gene Ress said Hays coached one year last season as an assistant for the girls team and the hire was based on the administration’s belief of what was best for the program and how it represents the school.

Ress went on to say it is the school board’s function, by policy, “to listen to what those very good administrators suggest.”

He added “time will only tell” if Hays will prove to be a good fit for the girls team.

Cole disagreed with Ress’ assessment and felt the board could not blindly accept recommendations, and that it is in place to provide oversight and “not be a rubber stamp” for the administration.

“We should give due diligence, and try not to micromanage, but stay involved because if not there is no reason for us,” he said.

After a 3-2 vote in favor of the hire, Flynn asked that the board be polled. Each member was asked by the board president to individually cast a vote, which resulted in the same 3-2 outcome.

In other news, contracts for counselors under a Safe Schools Grant were renewed. April Susjnara, Amy Hollinden, Wendi Rich and Vanessa Ford were all retained.

Maurice Harpenau was retained as a drivers-education instructor. According to Blinzinger, fees collected from the course are used to pay for books, car insurance and fuel and Harpenau is paid the remainder. Using that formula, the educator, who offers the class outside of his regular school duties, has saved the school corporation about a third of what a salaried employee would earn, Blinzinger added.

He went on to say the corporation didn’t have to offer the program and it’s a “simple service to the kids,” with Harpenau providing a flexible schedule to students.

Board members questioned that arrangement and asked to have more structure to the program for which students can earn class credit. Cole said the corporation doesn’t have a policy for the class and as it is currently is offered is a “quasi program.”

Board member Larry Kleeman supported the current system and lauded Harpenau’s class as a “valuable commodity to the community.”

Elementary Principal Laura Noble gave a brief presentation about a team of sixth-grade students who participated in a We The People elementary showcase in Indianapolis in May. She said they represented the school very well during the contest that requires students to “become lawyers when they are up there and defend the Constitution.”

William Tell Elementary sent five teams to the competition. The group collectively earned a superior rating, the highest awarded, for their six-minute speeches about why the Constitution is important.

Team members were recognized for their efforts and given a round of applause by the school-board members and the nearly 30 others in attendance.

High School Principal Brad Ramsey reported 33 students are attending summer –school classes in Algebra I and 10th-grade English.

The board discussed proposed policy updates to NEOLA, an Ohio company that provides management documents for board bylaws, administrative guidelines and procedures and student and staff handbooks.

During a first reading, board members offered several amendments and addressed other corrections and clarifications for a number of sections within the policies.

The board voted to move forward with the document and approved the first reading with the changes.