At the Manawa School Board meeting, Monday, April 22, board member Paul Sturm responded to some public comments that were made at the March meeting.
Sturm said Manawa Elementary School teacher Roseanne Sanderfoot made the statement last month that “she heard that teachers on performance improvement plans were not permitted to read their own plans. It was her opinion that these performance improvement plans were just an excuse to get rid of teachers.”
Sturm said Sanderfoot stated she had “heard” that, so she was repeating something that someone had told her.
“Apparently she made no effort to verify the statement’s veracity before repeating it at an open public meeting,” Sturm said. “The clear implication was that it was her belief that the administration, and by extension, the school board, would arbitrarily terminate someone’s employment for no reason at all. This is false. As was so clearly demonstrated when the board examined the actual performance improvement plan document which contained Mrs. Eklund’s written responses to each and every item in the plan. How could she have written responses to a plan that she wasn’t allowed to see?”
Sturm also said, “Certain people spread rumors that the district was ending its music program in an effort to get people to pressure the board.”
“Of course, the true reason was actually the board’s desire to improve the music program,” Sturm said. “Just as it is the board’s desire to improve every program in the district to its maximum potential given the resources that are available.”
He said the board is at a disadvantage when it comes to personnel matters such as rehiring a teacher.
“We are required by law to maintain confidentiality, however, the employee, or his or her supporters, are not bound by any such constraints,” Sturm said. “They are free to describe their circumstances in whatever light they think best portrays them and to make the board look like they are ignoring this. The board often can not refute such information without violating the employee’s confidentiality.”
Sturm said all the board can do is convene in closed session to have a hearing with the employee. The board normally allows the employee’s spouse and union representative to be present at this hearing. Sturm said that is what the board did last month.
“In the Manawa School District each board member has a great deal of personal integrity and we take pride in the measured tone and demeanor in which we conduct hearings,” Sturm said. “Sadly, this hearing did not hold up to our standards. Regrettably, during the hearing the union representatives chose to raise their voices, pound the table and shake a fist at the board, telling us what we had to do. I was so taken aback I was unsure how to respond.
“With the benefit of hindsight I will state that should the representatives act in such a manner at any time in the future I will ask them to leave the room and not invite these individuals back to any future hearings.”
Sturm said he feels much of the low morale, or anger, “is coming from a small group of acknowledged union leaders who tightly control the information that goes to the rest of the staff.”
“Fortunately for Mrs. Eklund, the board was wise enough to ignore the childish antics of her representatives and we decided her case on circumstances of her case alone,” Sturm said.
He went on to say that if the district is to move forward, each employee needs to keep themselves informed by searching out multiple sources of information, not just union representatives.
“My take away from this situation is that I will try to be even more proactive in sharing as much information as possible short of violating anyone’s confidentiality,” Sturm said. “I pledge to continue working with the staff in good faith to accomplish our ultimate goal which is to make the district the best it can possibly be in educating the students who attend here.”
Board officer elections
Kurt Kreklow was re-elected president of the board, while Carl Artz was re-elected vice-president. Sturm was re-elected as treasurer. Stephanie Flynn was elected to the clerk position. Each person was the only one nominated for the respective positions, and each was elected to their respective position by unanimous votes.
Board members were not appointed to committees because the board was informed by District Administrator Ed Dombrowski that the current committee structure being used by the board does not follow board policy.
Board policy 184 states, “The board believes that all members should be completely familiar with all functions of the board. Therefore, the board shall act as a unit and avoid the use of standing committees insofar as possible. There may be a standing transportation committee, appointed by the board president annually, to oversee school bus maintenance.”
Dombrowski informed the board that if it wants to keep using the committee structure it has been using, it will have to change the board policy. If the board doesn’t change its policy, it would have to start meeting as a Committee of the Whole prior to the actual board meeting each month.
Sturm said neither option is right or wrong, but that the way the board handles committees needs to be consistent with board policy. He also said he likes the input from school staff members at the committee meetings the way they are currently structured.
“While you are in that committee meeting they can provide a lot of valuable insight from their perspective,” Sturm said.
Board member David Strebe agreed that there are pros and cons to both options. He said he also likes the input at the committee meetings from staff members.
Kreklow agreed that under the current committee structure, it is easier for staff members to provide input.
Flynn said another consideration is whether board members get enough information from committees about topics if they are not on that committee. She said she felt that wasn’t currently a problem, but it was something to consider. She also said she liked the input from the staff members.
The board agreed that it likes the current committee structure and will start the process to change the board policy. Committee appointments will be made at the May school board meeting.
School position vacancies
Dombrowski informed the board that eight candidates will be interviewed for the Manawa Elementary School superintendant position, including two internal candidates. The interviews are scheduled to take place on May 1.
Dombrowski also said the district had wanted to hire a curriculum director but it cannot afford to pay for a full-time position. He said the person the district approached regarding this position has reconsidered and is now interested in the position. Details are currently being worked out.
There will also be an elementary teacher vacancy, Dombrowski said.
He said the district will also need to look at possibly hiring a tech person.
“I’m a little concerned about the results we got from CESA this year,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t mind having CESA as part of our backup and system analyst, but I think when it comes to the operational things I think we are going to need somebody here.”
During the Public Comments portion of the meeting Joe Starr addressed the board about the lack of board members and members of the administration attending some school functions. He cited the example of the recent Manawa FFA Banquet he attended. He said no board members or members of the administration were at that event. He asked the members of the board to make an effort to have representatives at school functions in the future.
The board unanimously approved an agreement with Shiocton for a school psychologist, as well as a contract for a school psychologist. It also approved the 2013-14 teacher contracts.