IOLA – Dennis Kennealy and his Parents4ThunderbirdKids group have accused the Iola-Scandinavia (I-S) School Board and district Administrator Joe Price of failing to disclose vital information.
Price said the group is spreading inaccurate and misleading statements. When he replies with the facts, Price said they respond with a rant.
“What is their platform? What is their solution?” Price asked. “There is no clear message. What they have done is criticize, not suggest what they would do differently.”
Recently, the Parents4ThunderbirdKids group has accused Price of failing to disclose information concerning administrative contracts. “They have not made a proper request,” Price said.
“Every piece of information they have asked for has been provided,” Price said. He indicated the request came in the form of an anonymous email, to which he normally would not respond. But Price indicated he responded with instructions on how to make an open records request.
According to Price, the group even accused board President Tom Opperman of being unresponsive after he attended their meeting and answered questions for over two hours. They called him “unwilling or not knowledgeable.
“We have an excellent school board and for someone to call them unprofessional is really inappropriate,” Price said. “Anybody who has questions about the school district’s budget is welcome to come in and talk to me.
“Nothing has changed here. We have an excellent school district,” Price said. “Our students scored above the state average on 24 of 26 Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE) measures, and in the other two they were at state average.”
He noted the student WKCE writing scores have improved, which has been the district’s focus for the past several years. The 10th-grade score was 4.9 in 2006, 5.3 in 2007 and 2008, 5.6 in 2009 and 6.1 – state average 5.6 – in 2010.
“A 6.1 score is pretty astounding to me,” Price stated. “The trend is moving in the right direction.”
Kennealy and the Parents4ThunderbirdKids group have criticized the I-S School District of being overloaded with nine administrators.
Price explained that some of the administrative positions are not Department of Public Instruction-licensed administrators. Positions like the director of the I-S Community Fitness & Aquatic Center and food services director are not union positions. Therefore, they cannot be listed under the teacher, 191 day, or support staff, Monday through Friday, contracts.
For instance, the food services director is paid $47,000, which includes benefits. If it were a union position, the district would pay over $50,000 plus benefits. “We’re saving the district money,” Price explained.
Under the Parents4ThunderbirdKids umbrella, the I-S School District has been accused of overpaying and over compensating the administrative staff. Price presented information that he is the 12th highest paid district administrator out of 16 districts in the Central Wisconsin Conference. High school principal Sara Anderson ranks ninth out of 16, and elementary principal Tess Lecy-Wojcik ranks eighth out of 13 in CWC. Business manager Jon Novak’s pay ranks 145th out of 161 business managers in the state.
According to information provided by Price, the I-S School District pays 100 percent of health insurance premiums and retirement for the district administrator, middle-high school principal, elementary principal, business manager, buildings and grounds director, fitness and aquatic center director, transportation director and food service director. All of this was approved most recently by the school board in June 2010.
Also, according to the information provided by Price, some of the administrative positions are eligible for an early retirement package that will pay 100 percent of their health insurance premiums through age 65. Included in this are the district administrator, middle-high school principal, elementary principal, business manager and buildings and grounds director. This benefit was first approved by the school board in May 1999 and most recently approved in June 2010.
According to Price, the administrators have expressed their willingness to modify the retirement benefits to help the district.
The I-S School District issued the following statement pertaining to Kennealy’s demands at a recent committee meeting:
“At the March 14 meeting of the Finance Committee, Dennis Kennealy delayed the committee’s discussion of the 2011-12 budget by insisting that the district administrator not be allowed to sit at the table with the committee because he is not a member of the board. The board members on the committee disagreed with this, knowing that the administrator has been seated at the board’s table during meetings for the past 16 years. After some discussion of the matter, during which Kennealy stated confidently that the open meetings law prohibited an individual who is not a member of the board from sitting with the board, members of the committee asked Price to move his chair away from the table so the meeting could continue.
“A review of Wisconsin’s open meetings law found nothing to support Kennealy’s claims. Consultations with Daniel Mallin, an attorney for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, and Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, confirm that Kennealy’s claims were not true.”
Price presented this information as an illustration of Kennealy’s behavior toward the board.
“He was going to prevent the Finance Committee meeting from taking place and what he was saying was not true,” Price said. “It’s the board’s meeting. They can have anyone they want sit at that table.”