A series of salary adjustments and contract approvals brought tense arguments between board members and Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel.
The sparring occurred at the board’s Tuesday special meeting.
Board member Tim Lacy complained of an ongoing lack of communication and not receiving requested documents, disputing Thiel’s claims he did not receive them.
Lacy said he has repeatedly asked for information, such as evaluations of administrators, since he started on the board. He read off emails from him dated June 13, 2014 and June 3, 2014, regarding concerns he had with renewing contracts: “I would like to make a request before administrative contracts are brought before the board for approval, I would like to see all evaluations from administrators…If I don’t feel comfortable I will no longer be voting for any administrator,” he read from the June 3 email. They were addressed to Board member Alyssa Dunham, who was board president at the time.
Lacy’s statements came during discussion for approval of East Elementary Principal Jill Weimer’s two-year administrative contract, to start Aug. 1, 2016. The contract was tabled at the June meeting at the request of Lacy and board member Jack Beard.
Beard said he had no issues with Weimer personally, but he does not believe the evaluations of principals and administrators in the district are done properly.
“If we don’t have valid evaluations of principals, how do we approve contracts?” he said. “My issue is the format.”
Beard raised this issue several months ago when the board was set to approve new contracts for Thiel and Treasurer Mandy Hildebrand. He said he wanted to see evaluations with information on what the employee does well, what they need to do to improve, and some goal-setting included. He also said some administrators had not had evaluations done for years.
“Teachers are held accountable every day, and they are hammered on their evaluations and we have good people, bad evaluations in the school system, or certainly less than what they should be. I think principals should be willing to go through the same scrutiny. I think what is fair for teachers should be fair for principals,” he said.
Thiel said he did not receive any board member questions that would lead him to think Weimer’s contract would not be renewed. For teacher and administrator contracts, the employee must be notified by a certain date if they are not to be renewed on their contracts. Weimer’s contract passed that deadline, so it needed to be renewed, Thiel said. There is a process for non-renewal that involves that notification and documentation of the reasons for non-renewal. This requirement also applies to teacher contracts, Thiel said.
“At no point did any board member ever communicate to me that there was an issue, question or concern about the performance of Mrs. Weimer,” he said. “Nobody said anything to me about this. If that’s the case, and the board feels that they want to make a recommendation for non-renewal, then yes, there is a timeline for doing that, my expectation is that the board members, the board president, somebody communicates with their chief executive officer, the superintendent that you’ve hired, to let them know there is a problem or issue or concern. Not once did anyone say anything to me about Mrs. Weimer’s performance.”
During his statement, Thiel requested board members who tried to interrupt to let him finish. Lacy did the same to him earlier in the meeting, when Thiel attempted to interrupt during one of Lacy’s statements.
Then Lacy stepped in after he was done.
“This clarifies something, before you showed your true colors here,” he said, relating to Thiel’s comment about finishing his statement. “This is my situation with you (Thiel) after you sent that email from the last board meeting…No one responded back because he’s sending an email being a bully, attacking, which, that’s his M.O. If he doesn’t like being challenged, he attacks. So you did me a favor by reacting the way you just did there because that’s how you treated me ever since I got on the board. And from talking to (Urbana City Director of Administration) Kerry Brugger, you must do him the same way.”
Lacy went on: “I’m tired of you, Mr. Thiel, acting like you’re not made aware of anything or not brought under guard about how board members feel because there’s numerous emails that I have in front of me in which we’ve addressed these concerns. Numerous,” he said. “Why would I trust anything that you give to me? Things I’ve asked for in the past you’ve never given to me.”
“I would say that’s false and inaccurate,” Thiel said, adding he has “always attempted to comply with your numerous requests.”
Thiel added Lacy has his email and cell phone number, and can always call and ask for any item. He could also call the treasurer or board president. He added Lacy did that with this meeting.
“If I’m aware of some issue that is pushing a board member to need to make a decision and vote for non-renewal, I expect you as board members, as one of your duties to communicate that, to me so we can look at the timeline necessary to go through that process,” he said.
Lacy fired back: “I just want everyone in this room to know I have tried…Somebody’s got to take a stand against this guy to let him know the board is here for the people, not here to rubber stamp.”
Dunham later said she did respond to those emails and told Lacy to contact the superintendent with questions.
“It’s not my responsibility to ask for it for you,” she said.
Board President Jan Engle said there is a valid evaluation in Weimer’s personnel file. He added he was shocked when Beard and Lacy asked for Weimer’s contract to be tabled from the June meeting.
“I was blindsided you were pulling Jill Weimer off there. I’d heard nothing, zero,” he said. Beard then questioned him as to why he voted with them to table the contract.
“It was for the fact of giving you the courtesy of listening to what you have….I haven’t seen anything or been given any documentation or that she’s been beating kids or kicking dogs or stuff like that,” he said.
Board member Warren Stevens echoed Engle’s surprise at Weimer’s contract being tabled previously.
Lacy reiterated his problem was not with Weimer, but the evaluation process.
Thiel said after the meeting administrators and principals have annual evaluations. Teachers can have annual evaluations, or if they are doing exceptionally well, can be evaluated every few years. Teacher and principal evaluations are part of Ohio law, and their formats are designed by the Ohio Department of Education.
The superintendent and treasurer are supposed to have annual evaluations, and that process is being updated by the current board. The board hires, fires and conducts evaluations for the treasurer and superintendent.
Administrator evaluations follow a format created years ago, Thiel said. All evaluations of public employees are public records and available to the public on request.
The board did approve Weimer’s contract at the meeting 3-2, with Lacy and Beard voting no.
Salary adjustments questioned
Individual board members also disagreed on salary adjustments for various employees and administrators, though the board did approve the adjustments 3-2. Lacy and Beard voted against the motions.
The salary adjustments were for 1.5 percent for some administrative staff and supervisory and confidential classified staff for the first pay period in the 2016-17 school year. There was also a 5 percent salary adjustment for Assistant Junior High Principal Jason Shultz.
The 1.5 percent adjustments were based on step amounts teachers did not receive during the salary freeze years of 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. In the recently approved teacher’s contract that addressed salary, teachers asked for a restoration of one of the lost steps for teachers. Teacher steps can range from 3.8 percent to 5.3 percent, Thiel said. Since there are no steps for administrators, Thiel said 1.5 percent on the base salary was considered what might be a typical “step” across the district. Steps at one time had been calculated at 1.5 percent.
The employees to receive the 1.5 percent adjustment include non-union administrators and supervisory and confidential classified employees who were in the district during the salary freeze years. Supervisory and confidential classified employees include central office, maintenance and other staff not covered by union agreements.
Beard pointed out the superintendent is allowed to give up to a 5 percent discretionary raise to administrative staff without having it come to the school board for approval, and these adjustments would be on top of any raise Thiel would give in that 5 percent range.
“I don’t like that,” Lacy said. “I think this is going to create animosity in the community. I don’t like to see one individual have complete control of raises. The superintendent should not be the individual who has the power to decide about raises when it comes to other administrators. Because when that happens, it takes the power away from the board, and the board is there to represent the people.”
The 5 percent raise discretion for the superintendent is outlined in the administrative guidelines, which were approved by past school boards. The board determines the superintendent’s and treasurer’s contracts, which include salary.
Lacy and Beard both stated their objections were not based on the quality of the job any of the administrators were doing, but based on principle.
“I’m not trying to micromanage, I’m trying to be fair,” Lacy added. “I want to have some power so I can serve the community. In this environment here, this one individual basically dictates everything.”
Engle said he thinks giving these adjustments are fair, since these employees had their salary frozen as everyone else in the district did.
“The administration and we’ve always tried to do, is if teachers didn’t get a raise we held (administrative) salaries the same,” he said. “We are giving something back to the teachers, I don’t see why we wouldn’t do the same thing for the (administrative) ones who had a freeze. I think it is fair and equal to give them that small adjustment, because they could be making more.”
Shultz’s 5 percent raise is an adjustment to bring him more in line with other assistant principals in other similar school districts, Thiel said. The amount was based on a survey of districts served by the Madison-Champaign Educational Service Center.
“It is too low in relative terms to other similar districts, that’s why I’m asking for an adjustment on his salary based on that,” Thiel said. “He has applied for opportunities to go other places. We would like to keep him here.”
Engle said former Assistant High School Principal Matthew Triplett just took a job at Graham Local Schools for higher pay.
“You go where the money is sometimes. This is something we’ve got to do, sometimes I think we have to do,” he said. “If we have good people let’s not let them go.”
The board unanimously approved a two-year administrative contract for new Assistant High School Principal Jesse Blair, effective Aug. 1, 2016. He replaces Triplett in that role.
Other items, contracts
The board approved increases in substitute teacher pay, effective the 2016-17 school year, from $90 per day to $100 per day for daily substitutes; and from $120 per day to $130 per day for long-term substitutes. The board voted 4-1 on that, with Lacy voting against it.
The board also unanimously approved a two-year Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) contract. The contract provides a 1.5 percent base salary increase in each of the two years, and clarifies some language in the contract.
The board approved updating the Supervisory and Confidential Classified Guidelines and updating the Administrative Guidelines. The Supervisory Guidelines were approved unanimously; the Administrative Guidelines were approved 3-2, with Lacy and Beard voting against. The actions updated the salary ranges for the employees in each category, Hildebrand said.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext.1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.