Harlan resigns; W-F Board to hold special meeting
The Weyauwega-Fremont School Board and its former District Administrator F. James Harlan are both moving forward following Harlan’s resignation.
He resigned as district administrator on Thursday, Sept. 9, notifying the school board and district staff of his retirement via e-mails that were sent out that evening.
He had served as district administrator since 2004.
In separate statements on Monday, both Harlan and the school district used the words “forward” and “positive.”
“I want this district to move forward in a positive way. The sooner they get focused back on the children, the better off the community will be,” Harlan said Monday afternoon in a telephone interview.
A statement was also issued Monday afternoon through the district’s legal counsel, Gill & Gill of Appleton, on behalf of the school district.
The statement says, “At approximately 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9, James Harlan sent an e-mail to the school board as well as others resigning effective immediately.
“The school board will be convening shortly to commence a search for a successor.
“In the interim, the school board is confident that the district will function during the transitional period smoothly and efficiently. Assistant Superintendent Scott Bleck will assume the duties of Dr. Harlan on an interim basis as he has done in the past during anytime Harlan was away from work, such as vacation time.
“The school board wishes to reaffirm that the mission of the district will always be to put children first. The board is confident that with the excellent professional teaching staff and support staff currently in place, that the district is poised to move forward successfully.
“The board views this situation as an opportunity for the district to move forward in a positive manner for the students, teachers, staff and taxpayers of the district.”
At 4 p.m. Monday, an agenda was posted for a special school board meeting, scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, in the middle school library. The agenda included four items to be discussed during closed session. Of the four items, three of them were the same items discussed by the board in closed session during the board’s special Sept. 9 meeting.
The items discussed at last week’s meeting and scheduled for discussion again this week were the following:
•To review the performance of Harlan as it relates to his response as records custodian to the July 2010 open record requests made by Dan E. Wilson.
•To review the performance of Harlan in connection with comments exhibited toward board member Jim Stuebs during a board committee meeting.
•To review the performance of Harlan relating to a contact made by Harlan to former district legal counsel Tony Renning on the evening of May 11, 2010.
The one new item for this week’s closed session was to review the performance of Bleck as it relates to interim placement as district administrator for the school district.
Discussion and the possible appointment of Bleck as interim district administrator was scheduled for open session on Sept. 15.
Other agenda items in the open session included discussion and possible hiring of a high school and middle school principal.
Bleck is currently the school district’s high school and middle school principal.
Also scheduled for open session were discussion and a possible hiring of a consulting firm to address the district’s business manager needs, discussion and possible action on exemptions of contract penalties related to resignation requests, and discussion and the possible hiring of outside services to consult electronic recovery of e-mails.
Harlan’s resignation followed a request during open session of the Sept. 9 board meeting to move the board’s consideration of Harlan’s proposal for changes to his contract from a Sept. 27 meeting to the Sept. 9 meeting.
Plans had called for Harlan to be the district administrator through this school year, with Bleck then assuming that role next school year. Harlan was to stay on part time next school year in a consulting role.
Harlan was at the open session portion of the Sept. 9 meeting, then left immediately after board members declined to make a motion to consider discussing changes to his contract as part of that meeting’s closed session.
“He immediately left the meeting and was not a closed session participant,” said Greg Gill Sr., the school board’s attorney. “During the closed session, the items listed were considered and discussed by the board, and the matter is still under review.”
Later that evening, Harlan resigned, sending e-mails to the board, staff and the media.
Gill said Monday that there were inconsistencies between the board and press announcements.
“There was no indication in the letter to the media of alleged harassment,” he said.
Gill was referring to the portion of Harlan’s e-mail to the board in which he said, “As noted in detail in a recent letter from my attorney to Attorney Gill in his capacity as attorney for the board, I have made clear that I feel that I have been harassed and subjected to hostile and abusive treatments by this board.
“The current actions of this board are clearly set up to carry out the expressed intentions of current board members to force me out of my position in breach of my contractual rights. I have made sincere attempts to try to resolve this matter professionally by proposing acceleration of the succession plan.
“It was my understanding based on my attorney’s discussions with Attorney Gill that Neal Loehrke (school board president) was in agreement that my proposal would be considered by the board in closed session tonight. However, I could see from the outset of this meeting that this board has no intention to do anything but subject me to further abuse, harassment and unwarranted humiliation.
“This board is acting in deliberate disregard of my contractual and legal rights, and one board member is acting with a clear conflict of interest. The working conditions I have been subjected to are unbearable and have adversely affected my physical and emotional health.
“Therefore, I feel that I have no reasonable alternative available to me to escape the abuse and harassment but to tender my resignation as district administrator effective at 9 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2010.
There were some similarities between the e-mail Harlan sent to the board and what was sent to the media.
In both, he talked about working with 23 different board members during his tenure as the district administrator and about the district being well positioned to meet the needs of 21st-century learners in spite of the challenges of the state economy.
In Harlan’s press release, he stated, “The current board and I do not share the same vision for the district. Therefore, with mixed emotions, I have decided to retire a few months ahead of schedule and have tendered my resignation as district administrator effective Sept. 9, 2010.”
When asked Monday about the difference between the statements sent to the board and the media, Harlan said, “I addressed the board directly. That communication was directed to the board. It was not directed to the community or anyone else. They chose to make that an issue. I told them honestly why I resigned. I’m trying to help the district move forward.”