Janesville59.8°

Conflict simmers among officials over job

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 28, 2008
— A Janesville School Board member called on the district’s top administrator to show better judgment Tuesday, while other board members came to the defense of Superintendent Tom Evert.

The controversy was over a new limited-term position that Evert wants to create to take on certain administrative duties.


School board member Amy Rashkin said she might resign from the board to apply for the job.


Rashkin made that statement after board member Tim Cullen called on Evert to withdraw his proposal for the new position.


Cullen said the position had become too controversial and was not needed.


A tense discussion ensued after Cullen broached the topic, even though board President DuWayne Severson said he was pulling it off the agenda so the board’s personnel committee could review it first.


It was the second meeting in a row that the position was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.


Cullen said he hoped “better judgment would prevail” and Evert would change his mind and withdraw the proposal before the personnel committee takes it up Tuesday, June 10. Cullen is the committee’s chairman.


No one mentioned Rashkin’s name until she brought it up, saying that not only was she interested in this position, but she also probably would apply for other positions in the district if they came open and she thought she was qualified.


“I’m not hiding anything. I’m not trying to go behind anybody’s back. I’m just looking for a job, just like people do all the time,” Rashkin said.


Rashkin said she would resign from the board if she decided to apply for a district post. That’s what should happen in such cases, according to a legal opinion from David Moore, the district’s legal counsel.


Cullen had requested a legal opinion, Evert said in a separate interview.


Moore wrote that it would be proper for a board member to resign before applying for a district job. He said it would be improper if that board member had helped create a position in order to obtain financial gain.


Rashkin was a member of the district’s bargaining team for the recent teachers contract, and that contract calls for a revamped staff-development system for teachers. The new position would, in part, coordinate the new system.


Rashkin said, however, that she came to negotiations late in the process, and the need for a new position never came up. Evert proposed the new position long after the contract was settled.


Rashkin said in a separate interview that she is looking for something new to do. She has a law degree and a master’s degree in music education.


She recently finished co-writing a book related to music education and is considering future career options, she said.


Rashkin pointed out that she has been a teacher, a lawyer, has business experience and has been involved in a variety of school district issues since she was elected in 2007.


Board member Lori Stottler said she had no problem with a one-year position that would help the district implement the changes negotiated with the teachers, and she believes Rashkin would be qualified for the position.


Rashkin said she hoped the board would consider the position on its merits and not on who might apply for it.


“Does anyone believe here for one second that if a board member abstained from voting to create the position and then resigned from the board, that the superintendent would leave that board member high and dry and hire somebody else?” Cullen asked.


At least two board members indicated they could envision Evert hiring someone else.


Cullen said he had no problem with Rashkin applying for a job. He said the board must be concerned with the behavior of the superintendent.


Cullen said Evert handed the board a dilemma: “We either approve a job that in all likelihood will go to one of the members of this board, or we say no to the job, and unless that board member resigns, we are sitting here with a board member pretty unhappy with a board that voted no. …


“You (Evert) put us in that position, and that’s what I find most discouraging about the process.


“So that’s my concern, and if a board member or board members want to take it personal, that’s up to them, but my issue is how and why it got here, and this board is not a job-creating agency for its fellow members,” Cullen said.


THE POSITION

Superintendent Tom Evert was set to propose a new position before he withdrew it from the school board’s agenda May 13, saying he needed to discuss it with Quint Studer of the Studer Group.


The Studer Group is donating its services to help the district start an innovative management system.


Evert wanted the duties of the new, 80-percent-of-full-time position to include helping get the Studer Group process rolling. That part of the position was to be paid for by Studer.


The position was to last only one year.


Evert wanted that same person to help implement a new staff-development program for teachers that was part of the recently approved teachers contract.


And that person would be responsible for a “core values” program to develop character in district students.


Evert said in a May 23 memo to the board that he and Studer had discussed the position, and Studer wanted to hire and pay for a person to handle Studer Group activities, separate from any district hiring.


That left the other duties, so Evert proposed a one-year, half-time position to handle staff development and core values.


A half-time position is the minimum needed for those projects, and it would allow the district to provide benefits, which would help recruit “the most qualified individual possible,” Evert wrote.


The cost would not exceed $41,619 for salary and benefits combined.


A position description more than three pages long calls for a master’s degree in education, experience in coordinating multiple projects, the ability to communicate effectively and the ability to work with professional staff, business people and consultants.


The person hired would report to Evert.


OTHER COMMENTS

Other comments by Janesville School Board members about the proposed new administrative position that board member Amy Rashkin has expressed interest in:


-- “My constituents don’t want me spending any more money. There’s plenty of staff in this building, in the district, to do those things.” —Kevin Murray, who noted the poor economy, local job losses and people on fixed incomes.


-- “I just don’t see the slam dunk that this position … would go to Amy. … People have the right to apply for what they want to apply for.” — Bill Sodemann


-- “I will never question anyone’s ethics or integrity on this board or in this administration. I find everybody a very ethical group, very above-board, and whether we agree or not with the position—I think that’s something we can debate—I don’t think we can debate integrity or ethics.” — Debra Kolste


-- “I’ve been here longer than any of you. This is my 11th year, and I have never, ever in all that time seen him (Superintendent Tom Evert) bring forth a person who wasn’t highly qualified for any job that he brought to us to OK. Never, ever. … And he wouldn’t be asking for this job to be there if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.” —Dennis Vechinsky



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