Principals shown strong supportPublished 9:22pm Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Fired up, but not fired.
Fifty people filled the city council chamber Wednesday noon to show support for principals, whose contracts were being “reissued.”
The school board voted to renew current contracts expiring June 30 for 2012-13 with salary ranges, benefits and performance incentives amended and language added to reflect concurrence with new state laws, as recommended by Thrun Law Firm in Lansing.
“I thought we were merely revamping and reissuing contracts when the current contract is discontinued,” Supt. Mark Daniel said. “We did not think upgrading our contract would create this kind of turmoil. I appreciate principals being open and honest about it. We’ll discuss salaries with them in the next 30 days, and the board has to make a decision. We can’t sort through how positions might be shifted until April 9, when there is a final decision on where we’re headed” for an August bond proposal.
“With a $1.2 million deficit-spending pattern, we have to look at our entire system,” Daniel said. “I think we’re in a better position than some in very controversial times — our teacher contract expires next year. If we maintain what we’re doing, this district is broke in 2015 and you will have an emergency financial manager.”
“You don’t need to non-renew if you want to hire them back,” Linda Lorenz, a former board member, said. “You have to recognize that, with all these people putting their jobs on the line to come to you with this concern, and to have the community concerned. No other districts are doing this.”
Harry Little, a retired assistant principal from Union High School, said administrators come by their distrust honestly considering the buyout of former assistant superintendent Hal Davis’ contract. Little and John Hess faulted the district for putting the issue off until so late.
“That propagates suspicion through the ranks and throughout the community,” Little said. “You have to have everyone on board to do a bond issue. It’s an uphill climb with this kind of atmosphere floating around.”
Kelly Millin, an assistant principal at DUHS, and Marcy Hendress, who has been the principal at Justus Gage for the past seven years, said they feared “non-renewal” of contracts, as placed on the agenda for consideration, could harm educators with future employers.
“We’ve been hearing (non-renewal) was not OK with the principals, so we’ve used our First Amendment rights to support them,” said parent Liz Lyons, Cass County’s former chief assistant prosecutor. “Don’t be mad at us that we showed up and disagree with you. You don’t have to non-renew to put in new language or make changes you need to make.”
Human Resources Director Jennifer Daly-Thies replied, “I don’t go to 75 people in the public to say, ‘My contract’s not being renewed, I’m not sure why’ I’d go to Mark and say, ‘I’m nervous about why this is happening.’ Our contracts are 15 years old and don’t have a lot of language that is now mandatory, such as state insurance requirements. Mine is also being non-renewed.”
“We’re trying to comply with our law firm’s recommendation, not eliminate principals or administrators,” Daniel said.
“One-year contracts will become multiyear contracts again,” school board President Larry Seurynck said. “I’m sorry for any misunderstanding and the rumor going through the community.”
It was also pointed out that communication might be improved by restoring administrative team meetings.
“I love being a principal at Kincheloe every day,” said Dawn Conner, who has been an administrator for 15 of her 25 years with the district. “But if I don’t have reasonable assurance I’m going to have a job, I have no choice but to look for a job somewhere else. Everyone’s panicked because it’s not been done this way before and it’s not something other people in the state are doing.
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t worried about this because the last thing we want to do is cause trouble for our district or make it appear we’re not unified. This community support means a lot to us. This positive energy once we get through this needs to be directed to moving forward because not one of us here doesn’t care about our kids. Use this as a catalyst for positive change.”
“In the past, we’ve always known what was coming around the bend,” Middle School Co-Principal Mike Frazier said.
Having a midday meeting fueled suspicion on the part of members the public, such as Keith Pitcher, but the hour and a half exchange seemed to vent pent-up frustration.
When school board member Mark Dobberstein said he has served on the board almost four years without seeing 10 parents unless it was for an award ceremony,
Kim Purlee responded, “I love all of your kids and your hearts are in the right place, but I haven’t felt the need to be here because board members are trusted friends. But this seemed shady to me and, at this point, I don’t trust some of the decisions being made. Kara (Cox) is the only counselor (at the middle school). My daughter said, ‘We’ve got two principals and a police officer. Are they trying to catch us getting in trouble or trying to get us help?’ I’m here to understand what’s going on. Are you going to offer them the same things they have now — or less so they leave?”
“When you step out of line, we’re going to be there, watching,” retired teacher Karyl Sifford said.
Another longtime teacher, Edith Carey, said, “You ask your staff to be transparent, but you have failed to be transparent with this community as far as communication by informing ahead of time so there is not a surprise. You hire smart people, you should ask them to sit down as a team for their ideas.
“What kind of message are you sending when everyone’s upset? If you want a positive image, you need to have everyone on board, from the staff to the community, or you will not succeed with your millage. Team management might give you better results.”
“If they’re not coming to you, maybe you need to come to parent-teacher conferences and mingle,” like Ronda Sullivan does at Patrick Hamilton, came another suggestion.
Seurynck asked citizens to leave email addresses to arrange an evening community forum “and talk about the schools. When I saw Channel 16 here, I wished they were coming to see ‘The Sound of Music’ or the smart classroom or to do a story on reading recovery.”