USD 410 board votes to nonrenew three contracts

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
The agenda of nonrenewing contracts for three tenured Hillsboro Elementary School teachers drew more than 25 patrons to Monday evening’s Unified District 410 Board of Education meeting.

The board voted 6-1-board member Eddie Weber dissenting-to adopt a resolution for nonrenewal of the contracts for Michelle Goldsby, Sunshine McEwen and Michelle Faul.

The state requires that nonrenewal be done before May 1.

After board president Brent Barkman called the meeting to order, he invited the patrons-teachers, staff, parents and a couple of students-to make comments about the proposed staffing changes for 2004-05.

In response, only Alan Goldsby-husband of teacher Michelle Goldsby, one of those slated for nonrenewal-spoke to the board.

“This is not an indictment of any individuals,” Goldsby said. “It’s more an opinion of the tenure system. Performance needs to be the issue when letting people go.”

He underscored comments made in a letter dated April 23, in which Goldsby urged the board to consider reducing certified teaching staff as a secondary consideration in decreasing costs.

“There is broad support given to the idea that low pupil-teacher ratios correspond with better educational outcomes, especially in the lower grade levels,” wrote Goldsby.

His concerns were echoed by other letters sent by parents and school personnel to Superintendent Gordon Mohn. Those letters were distributed at the meeting for the public to read.

Among the concerns expressed in the letters and e-mail were the following:

n the loss of high-quality teachers.

n the reassignment of teachers to other grades.

n the number of students needing special education services.

n the need to attract new families to the district.

The board accepted Carolyn Penner’s letter of resignation for the next school year and acknowledged her acceptance of the early retirement package as per the master contract for certified employees.

Penner holds a part-time position as HES librarian and media specialist, a position that requires particular certification.

After active discussion, the board voted 7-0 to adopt the following statement: “It is the goal of USE 410 Board of Education to keep class size in grades K-3 at or below 18 students and class size in grades 4-6 at or below 24 students.”

That statement-stated as a goal rather than a requirement-provided some leeway in responding to enrollment levels for any one class, Mohn said.

In response to board member Doug Weinbrenner’s question about the impact of larger class size on the quality of service or education, Mohn reiterated his rationale for cutting staff in response to ongoing restrictions in state funding, an overall decline in the district’s enrollment and a looming projected budget deficit.

Specifically, he said, it is essential to maintain adequate, quality staffing and to be fiscally responsible in light of declining enrollment for kindergarten through sixth grades.

“I believe we can do this and continue to have a high quality school,” said Mohn about the decision to nonrenew.

Several times Mohn referred to historical counts of class size.

“These levels were acceptable in the past,” he said, evidenced by students scoring high on assessment tests.

Skilled teachers, support from special education and Title 1 staff, and community programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters are important resources, Mohn said.

Mohn told the board he plans to recommend a 3 percent raise increase for teachers.

Barkman said, “We have to retain the quality we have-and pay them what they’re worth.”

Weinbrenner asked the board members if anyone had a better plan that would maintain quality education and fiscal responsibility.

The board spent some time talking about the option of raising taxes and hiring part-time staff, but in the end voted 5-2 to offer two class sections in grades four, five and six for the 2004-05 school year.

Dissenting were Weber and Dale Klassen.

Patrons began to leave when it became apparent the board would approve the nonrenewal of contracts for Goldsby, McEwen and Faul.

Consequently, nonrenewal notices will be delivered to each teacher, and the board will take final action at its May meeting.

In the meantime, tenured teachers have 15 days to request a hearing officer to review the procedure the district followed, although that process is not a quick one, Mohn said.

If a hearing officer is requested, the board would not take action to nonrenew that teacher, but it would not offer a contract for the upcoming school year.

The three teachers-in order of Goldsby, McEwen and Faul-will be on the call-back list for two years if a position opens whether because of resignation or retirement.

In other business, Mohn announced an architect is being consulted about the classroom situation above the high school auditorium.

“I think there are other more viable options dealing with the rooms than building a fire escape,” Mohn said.

The state fire marshall recently determined the two second-floorclassrooms do not meet state fire code.

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