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New hire in Frazee sits on school board

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New hire in Frazee sits on school board
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Monday night, the Frazee-Vergas School Board approved hiring one of their own as a paraprofessional substitute in the district.

Board member Jim Nelson requested being hired as a para sub for the district. The request was granted, but not before Frazee resident and former school employee Lori Thorp listed several reasons why the board should rethink the motion.

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During the citizen and delegation request time at the start of the meeting, she asked the board to make an objective decision when it came time to vote at the end of the meeting, when the item was listed on the agenda. She said the decision impacts both the students and the school because of Nelson’s previous actions.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Nelson, but I believe you are a high risk individual to this district,” she said.

She cited legal costs, reprimands from the past and harassment accusations as reasons she thinks he’s a risk.

During the allotted time for Thorp to speak and during the discussion and vote at the end of the meeting, Nelson didn’t comment on the issue.

  Board member Kenny Fett asked Thorp if she brought this concern up because of past sparring between the Thorp and Nelson over her former position as community education director of the district.

“No, no, I have no malice toward him,” she said.

Thorp said the district spent about $7,000 in legal fees on Nelson regarding a harassment charge a couple years ago, another $7,000 was spent to put him on administrative leave while the incident was being investigated, and then the district paid the remainder of his contract, coming to a total of about $75,000, when he resigned.

A few times during her speech, she asked Superintendent Terry Karger to stop her if she had incorrect numbers, but he did not.

According to Nelson’s personnel file, which is public information, his separation agreement with the district and the Frazee Education Association, effective Jan. 15, 2010, said the district agreed to pay $35,000 for the remaining eight months of salary on his contract, $26,000 in severance pay, and nearly $13,000 to his HRA. The district also agreed to pay $425 for personal days that hadn’t been used.

Also in the separation agreement, it states that despite Nelsons’ resignation, the district has been treated fairly and appropriately at all times in regard to his employment and resignation.

“In the event that the district receives any inquiries about why he has resigned, Nelson hereby authorizes the district to state that he retired for personal reasons,” it says.

Since the discussion regarding the resignation was held during a closed meeting, no details of the incident are in Nelson’s file.

A note in Nelsons’ file from then-superintendent Deron Stender recommended going into closed session to discuss the allegations against Nelson on Dec. 9, 2009.

The agreement also states that it should not be construed as admission of liability or wrongdoing by Nelson, district, association or interested parties.

It is because of that separation agreement Karger said he recommended the board allow hiring Nelson as a paraprofessional substitute.

“The recommendation was based on the facts found in the separation agreement,” he said Tuesday. “There is an agreeance by all parties of no wrongdoing, so there was nothing found of guilt. Looking at that piece, there is nothing that says he is guilty.”

Karger said that if there was something else, it should have been reflected in the agreement, and since it wasn’t, he gave the recommendation for the hire.

Karger said he doesn’t know for sure the details of the incident because he wasn’t working in the district at the time, and the discussion was held in a closed meeting.

“I’m trying to go off what’s factual,” he said of his recommendation. “There are many things out there, but what are the facts? The facts that I found were in the separation agreement. When all was said and done, all three parties agreed to no wrongdoing by any of the three parties.”

Monday night, Thorp said it was also a bad decision to allow Nelson to work in the elementary school again because Nelson was on the committee that recommended hiring new principal Travis Nagel and now Nagel would be responsible for supervising the one who recommended hiring him.

“It’s an inappropriate situation to put him in,” she said.            

Thorp cited that when going through Nelsons’ personnel file, there is documentation of an incident in 1987, where Nelson was reprimanded for pulling a student’s hair. Jerry Johnson, who was principal at the time, had to talk to Nelson about the inappropriateness of pulling hair.

The note signed by Johnson on Dec. 15, 1987, said that he “discussed with Jim the wrong of grapping or pulling a student’s hair. He assured me that he realized it wasn’t the best procedure. (The student’s) disrespect for his authority created the incident.”

Also in his record, a goal cited for Nelson to work on is 1989 was to “show patience and understanding towards students who have difficulty in grasping desired skills.”

Several years’ worth of classroom evaluations from the 1980s are also in the personnel file, and Johnson said in 1995, “Jim, you do a great job of teaching! You are a credit to the teaching profession.”

Thorp said that although Nelson was a teacher for many years with the district, he’s not a good choice as a paraprofessional substitute in the district.        

She argued that if it’s not an easy decision, it shouldn’t be on the school board’s agenda at all, and if it’s an embarrassment to the district, it shouldn’t be on the agenda either.      She added that if Nelson took the buyout a couple years ago, why would the district now agree to hire him back as a paraprofessional substitute?

The board voted unanimously with little hesitation to approve Nelson as a paraprofessional substitute. Nelson abstained from the vote.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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