School board renews Brooks’ contract
School board approves measure in 5-2 vote
by RANDY OLSON
After twice tabling the matter at two school board meetings in March, the Sauk Centre School Board approved a contract with School Administrative Specialty Services (SASS) at a special meeting on Tuesday.
The split 5-2 vote in favor of the contract had Ann Mitchell, Sarah Abel, Rich Lauer, Jeff Schuster and Darin Thompson voting yes and Vicki Pfeffer and Mary Rasmussen voting no.
The contract provides superintendent services to the district, an arrangement that has been in place since 2011. At that time, Superintendent Dan Brooks resigned in the first year of his three-year contract with Sauk Centre Schools and became an employee of SASS. The school receives superintendent services provided by Brooks through SASS.
Specifically, SASS provides “a licensed school administrator to serve as the District’s superintendent of schools and to perform other duties as assigned by the school board.”
The arrangement is in place for numerous other schools in Minnesota as well. If at any time the board feels they want a new superintendent in place, they can give 60-day notice to SASS to find a replacement.
Consequently, if at any time Superintendent Brooks wishes to resign, he can provide 60-day notice to the board as well.
Rasmussen prefaced her no vote, saying, “I have more information to go on this year. Working with Mr. Brooks, I’ve realized our philosophies are different on what is his main job responsibility. Employee relations should be a priority. I know finances are also important, but if you don’t have good employee relations it makes everything else more difficult.
“Staff must be able to trust in the administration. While I think we’ve made gains on getting staff input in certain areas, I don’t know if we’ve addressed the staff/trust issue.”
Abel responded, “Trust can be a very vague word. In my experience I’ve seen work done with integrity on Mr. Brooks’ part. I find it frustrating that we’re sitting here talking about this with all that has happened. It’s a good contract. It saves us money.”
Abel referred to the savings between the cost of the contract Brooks voluntarily opened in 2011 and what was implemented by SASS at that time. Direct annual savings have been $18,963 each year, not including built-in raises that were in the original contract. No increases in the contract have been added since 2011.
Thompson referenced a conversation he had with Dean of Students Don Peschel on Monday.
“Mr. Peschel has been a teacher, union negotiator and now has a part-administrative position. I directly sought his perspective on this issue, and a few things stuck out,” said Thompson.
“Peschel learned about the huge amount of behind-the-scenes work done by administration that the public and the rest of us don’t see. In his words, we’ve made huge progress in our buildings in the last two years. We have committees going that we didn’t have before, including the community action group. He really believes the school is moving in the right direction.”
Pfeffer commented, “A year ago my main issue was not having any goals or an evaluation to go by, something we should all have. While I think we’ve made strides this year, I believe we need more team collaboration. We need more trust and support between the staff and administration.”
This year the school board conducted a formal job review of the superintendent position, referenced in a March 13 Herald article. Brooks has since provided the board and Herald a five-page response including his thoughts on the job review and areas for improvement.
Pfeffer then mentioned the utilization of surveys but pressed for added deference to student survey data.
“We’ve started senior surveys and have two years of data to look at (2012, 2013). We talk a lot about surveys and seeking input from different areas, but we haven’t done much in the student direction because of the parent issue last year,” she said.
The issue Pfeffer referred to was when a parent provided a complaint to administration about a teacher that allegedly gave specific direction and instruction to some seniors who were taking the Class of 2013 survey.
From the July 31, 2013, Herald, an article explained the situation:
Board members discussed the revelation that a parent contacted the school after graduation stating that their student was told what to write for the comment section of the survey.
“We have a case of one staff member using class time to coach students to make negative comments towards administration,” explained Jeff Schuster.
“The student did not agree with the directed sentiments and was uncomfortable with what was pushed on them. No complaint was made until after graduation due to fear of retribution from the staff member. Sadly, I’ve heard more and more about this from differing sources,” he added.
In a follow-up to the issue on Tuesday, district officials were unable to give additional details to the matter or any disciplining of the staff member in question, citing data privacy laws.
Regarding his job evaluation, Brooks said to the board, “Thank you for taking the time to provide performance feedback. I’m appreciative of both the positive comments and the suggestions for constructive growth. As to the terms of the contract stating the 60-day notice clause, I will continue to serve the school district at the will of the board.”