The decision by four of the six Sartell-St. Stephen School Board to renew superintendent Joe Hill’s contract is likely to hurt the school district – again.
This is not to say Hill is unworthy. Not at all. But the time to renew that contract should not have happened when it did – at the Oct. 15 meeting, in the wake of that public hearing. They should have postponed the action. But, of course not. The board wasn’t about to slow down for anybody or anything. It chugged full-steam ahead like a locomotive. At the very least, the board should have held another meeting later this month to have a full and frank discussion, by all board members, taking into account public comments, before renewing that contract.
That decision is yet another example of arrogant behavior by the board. At a public hearing just before the regularly scheduled meeting, a majority of speakers passionately urged the board to hold off on a contract decision until a newly elected board is in place after the election. It’s as if the board (four out of six of them anyway) thumbed its nose at all of those good people who had serious concerns. Like it or not, that was the perception.
The last thing the school board needs at this point is anger from parents and students. And yet, unbelievably, they behaved as they have in the past – disregarding public concerns and making decisions that are questionable, at best.
As bad as the anger is the mistrust the board has engendered in the public for many months. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a board to regain trust. One would think it would have learned from the flak over its decision to end spring break, from how that decision was made so hastily with virtually no public input. That decision caused rifts on the board and among the Sartell community. In the feud that followed, some board members clammed up and began stonewalling, leading to more anger and more mistrust.
It was glaringly obvious the board had become seriously dysfunctional, fractured, disconnected and unwilling or unable to communicate with the public it is supposed to serve.
Then later, there was another foolish move, this time a unilateral decision by board chairman Dan Riordan to appoint Chris Gross and Gary Schnellert to do research into the superintendent’s chances for contract renewal. Gross and Schnellert were appointed – not elected – to the board to fill the vacancies resulting from the resignations of Julie Zupfer Anderson and Patrick Jacobson-Schulte. Why were such recent appointees selected? If that isn’t odd enough, conflict-of-interest issues should have surfaced because Schnellert and Hill had known one another as admiring colleagues long before Schnellert was appointed to the board. The perceptions of secretiveness and favoritism are on many people’s minds. Not including the entire board in such decisions was absolutely inexcusable, as well as foolish.
Disturbing accusations the board flagrantly violated the Open-Meeting law several times are yet more woes the board will have to face. Will the stonewalling continue?
Well, what’s done is done. But suspicions, mistrust and anger will linger for a very long time. We can only hope the newly elected board – four new members – will be able to act like mature adults instead of backstabbing, squabbling sandbox brats. Maybe they’ll actually be able to work together for the sake of the students.
The good thing about the Oct. 15 public hearing is how many parents there care passionately about education. The bad thing is the hard-to-shake perception the board didn’t seem to listen to them and didn’t seem to care.