Onekama considering all options for superintendent position

ONEKAMA — The Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of Education continued to work on the process of replacing retiring superintendent Kevin Hughes at special meeting held Monday evening.

Members of the Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of Education continued to look at options for replacing superintendent Kevin Hughes at a special board meeting held Monday. The board is meeting at 5 p.m. in another special board meeting to draw up a job advertisement for an interim superintendent.

During the Feb. 11 meeting, Hughes announced his intentions to retire when his current contract expires on June 30. The board is looking at its options for filling that position.

At the board’s March 11 meeting, Manistee County Business Cooperative fiance director Kris Mauntler informed board members that due to declining enrollment and higher costs for vocational education programs the district is facing a $200,000 shortfall in the 2019-20 budget. As a result, board president Sally Koon set up an ad hoc committee consisting of herself and board members Nick Dye and Heidi Wisniski. The committee asked Mauntler for options for replacing Hughes at a lesser cost.

Coming into Monday’s special board meeting, the three options being considered were as follows:

• Option one has the most savings, with an interim/principal combination, which would be current principal Gina Hagen;

Hagen

• Option two would entail hiring an interim part-time retired superintendent. The person could make up to 33 percent of their salary and there wouldn’t be any retirement costs; and

• Option three would be an interim part-time superintendent who would not be be retired; the district would need to pay retirement costs to this person. This would be the most costly option. This option was ruled out by the board at the start of the meeting Monday.

Public comment

Prior to starting discussion on those options the board heard some extensive comments from the public concerning the situation.

Parent Bob Sidor said he thought the board should seek an interim superintendent from outside the school to get another

Koon

perspective.

“Any organization that seeks success, seeks excellence has to step outside itself to see what is out there,” he said. “Even if we had an interim one, that is like an evaluation from an outside source because we can’t be so arrogant to think we are doing everything right.”

Sidor said 30 percent of the students in the Onekama district currently attend other school districts and drawing those students back would be aid the current budget woes.

“There is money out there and you just have to go out after it, and that is why I think you have to bring some fresh blood in here and make some changes to pursue that revenue,” he said.

Cori Hauswirth commented that she didn’t like the way the public comment was set up at the beginning of the meeting instead of the end. She said because they had to give comments before the board had any discussion or made decisions on what they were going do.

Jerry Brown said it was shame money is being squeezed out of education.

“Who would want to be the person who is left here to do all that needs to be done,” said Brown. “We are strapped already and people are not being given enough money to do the job, and because of that everyone in here who works for the school district is being asked to do more than they are being paid to do.”

Brown said the problem is everyone ends up being at each other’s throat instead of trying to come up with the best resolution.

Mike Acton disagreed with Brown’s statement.

Hughes

“I think we all have to keep in mind that student achievement is the number one priority focus here, and I don’t think we are at each other’s throats and all we are looking for is continuous improvement with our student achievement,” said Acton.  “I just think that is what we should expect from our schools, and that is why this school is here.”

Scott McKenney, president the Onekama Education Association (teachers) read a letter of support on behalf of the union for naming Hagen as the interim superintendent.

“Ms. Hagen has done an outstanding job representing the district as principal, district administrator and parent of two Onekama graduates,” said McKenney. “The skills she has learned throughout her years of service should make her the clear choice for interim superintendent and as members of the Onekama Consolidated Schools Education Association we support her becoming interim superintendent and recommend the Onekama Board of Education hire her as interim superintendent of the district.”

A similar letter was read by Onekama Consolidated Schools Support Staff member Ann Swanson.

“As staff members of Onekama Consolidated Schools, we highly recommend Gina Hagen to be appointed interim superintendent,” said Swanson. “We have great regard and confidence in Ms. Hagen as an administrator and feel her appointment would be the smoothest transition and least disruptive to the school district.”

Option One

Board president Sally Koon said they would first look into option one.

Hagen presented the board with a written resume of her qualifications and letters of recommendation from Manistee Intermediate School District superintendent David Cox, Kaleva Norman Dickson/Bear Lake superintendent Marlen Cordes, former Onekama interim superintendent Lee Sandy and former ISD general education director Kay Salyer.

Hagen first told the board there are a lot of rumors in the community about her future plans, and she wanted to set the record straight.

“I am not leaving this year and I am eligible to retire next year, but do not want to retire,” said Hagen. “I have done a lot of soul searching this year and I am not done with this. I would like to continue working at Onekama Schools as long as I can and am able.”

Hagen said she is interested in the interim position and has been in education for the past 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and at the community college level. She also has started and ran an alternative education program, served as technology director, been an interim superintendent/principal (Manistee Catholic Central), athletic director, 6-12 principal and K-12 principal.

“For the past 13 years, I have filled in for the superintendent at least one day a week. (Hughes is part-time four day a week superintendent),” said Hagen. “I have sat in superintendent meetings representing our school and spoke to the committee on behalf of the superintendent. But most of all I have had a close working relationship with Mr. Hughes, Mr. Sandy and Beth McCarthy.”

Hagen said she has played a big role in budgeting, bond issues, building projects and most of all, day-to-day operations.

“My thought is if we hire a two-day-a-week superintendent (other than herself), that leaves three days I will have to fill in for that superintendent beyond my own activities,” said Hagen. “If I were interim superintendent, there are plans to limit part of my workload, specifically Individualized Education Plans, child study and discipline. That would free more of my time to be superintendent.”

She said that it would also allow her to start working with Hughes immediately ready for the start of the 2019-2020 school year. By state law, Hughes can not have anything to do with the district for 30 days after his final day of employment on June 30.

“My fear is if someone else is hired, that person will not start until July 1 and that transition would not be as smooth as any knowledge for that person would have to come through me and the business office,” said Hagen.

Board members raised concerns about who would cover her other duties. Hagen said in all three areas there are people in place who could handle those duties that she oversees. She added there is a plan for compensation for those positions.

She was questioned about the district’s achievement levels and responded that she knows there is work that needs to be done, but with a new person there would be a learning curve that might delay improvement.

“I would love to pick the School Improvement Plan up and continue to move forward,” said Hagen.

Option two

The second option is to hire a retired school superintendent to fill the position for one year.

Koon informed the board that since their last meeting, former Onekama superintendent Beth McCarthy made an offer to serve one year as interim superintendent free of charge. However, it was pointed out that McCarthy’s certification had expired.

Mauntler said to become re-certified would require a great deal of study hours and it must be proven that is taking place within six months of accepting the position.

Board member Sam Cantanese said according to a source at the Michigan Department of Education, a waiver available and the board should look more into that option. He cited McCarthy’s willingness to work free for the district as a great incentive.

Board member Gary Madden said he has concerns about student achievement and pointed to the Frankfort Elberta Area Schools as having nearly twice the scores that Onekama does. He has spoken to two former superintendents about an interim superintendent/principal position.

“My first instinct is to go with option one as that is the most seamless, but one of them I spoke with is retired and has 30 plus years experience and said he would be interested in doing the interim superintendent position,” said Madden. “Both of them expressed concern about sharing the roles. One who is serving in both roles commented that he didn’t feel he could do either job adequately.”

Other board members also expressed a need to look other possible candidates at this time. The suggestion was made to run an advertisement on the board’s website and in several other education locations to see what type of response they get.

Board members decided against making a decision for either option on Monday and elected instead to meet in another special meeting at 5 p.m. on April 2 in the school media center to draw up wording for an advertisement for the interim position to be posted in various locations.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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