Locking in the leader
It was a clearly divided board, a clearly divided seating arrangement and a clearly divided vote, but the Frazee-Vergas School Board renewed Superintendent Deron Stender's contract for another three years on a 4-2 vote.
In a common voting pattern, it was Dwight Cook, Keith Janu, Don Thorp and Dana Laine against Steve Jepson and Rich Ziegler. (Nancy Dashner was absent).
For the sake of opening discussion, Monday morning at the regular meeting, Cook said he would make a motion to approve Stender's contract proposal. Janu seconded it.
Ziegler objected, explaining that Monday morning was not the time to approve the contract, since the board had just received it hours before. He said he called into the office last week and was told he would have a copy of the contract e-mailed to him by noon on Friday.
Then, he said he was told the independent contracts of administrative personnel were pulled from the agenda, as was Stender's contract. Stender said at the meeting that yes, he had pulled them from the agenda.
Then, Sunday evening, the contract was added to the agenda and sent to board members, but Ziegler said he wasn't able to access it until Monday morning, just before the 7 a.m. meeting.
"We have 13 months. I don't know where the fire is," he said of approving the contract long before Stender's current contract is up.
Jepson added that none of the other contracts in the district were settled yet, so why the rush on Stender's? He added that the teacher and other independent contracts should be finished before the superintendent's.
Other board members disagreed, saying that the negotiation for the superintendent contract needs to be done in a public meeting, so they should just negotiate now.
Cook said that he did think Stender's proposed salary increase was too high, higher than the teachers', and should be reduced by 1 percent.
"For me, that's more palatable," he said.
When Cook asked Stender if he would agree to that change in the contract, the superintendent barely gave a nod in agreement.
Jepson spoke up and said that he found too many changes from the old contract to the new one and it was "too premature" to pass it Monday without more time to study and discuss.
"My concern is, I haven't gotten to review this," Ziegler added.
So, bottom line, why the rush, he asked.
"I come prepared. Sorry, Rich," Janu said.
"Give me something," said Ziegler, who has taken a verbal beating in the past for not being as computer savvy as some. He added that he tried to be prepared but didn't receive the information until late, after being told it wasn't going to be on the agenda at all.
Cook said it wasn't good to assume anything.
"When I'm told in writing that it's off the agenda, I'm not assuming, I know it," Ziegler said.
Laine said she went into the office and had gotten a copy of the contract on Tuesday of last week. Ziegler asked why she couldn't have sent it out to the other board members so they would have it as well, and she said she wasn't sure if there would be changes or not.
In a separate contract, Stender is paid $1,200 for his duties relating to technology. Instead of having that separate contract, he agreed to have it rolled into his superintendent contract and just be paid the $1,200 there.
The pay increase figured out to an increase of $3,000 a year, putting Stender at $94,200 a year for the three school years of 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14.
"Still, it's my understanding he's the lowest paid superintendent in the area," Cook said.
The new contract, although passed quite a while before the current one is up, will not replace the existing contract. The agreed to 30 days of vacation are what Stender will be earning by the last year of his current contract. The new one would not give him any extra days, just the 30 a year he's already getting.
Stender's new contract was drawn up during the meeting, causing several recess periods for the updated contract to be printed out and reviewed before it was voted on.
The contract was approved 4-2.