Parents Raise Concerns Over Pekin “Double Dipping” Superintendent Costs

Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

PACKWOOD – At the start of the May 13 meeting of the Pekin School Board, members of the public were invited to comment on an amendment to the FY24 school budget, which included an extra $121,000 to account for the new superintendent expenses. Business Manager Cherie Westendorf explained that former superintendent Derek Philips, who was placed on administrative leave in March, will still be paid for the rest of the school year. These costs were previously budgeted for, but a payout to Philips for his resignation and the $825 per day that the school pays to the AEA for interim superintendent Jeff Maeder has increased the district’s administrative costs.

One attendee asked how much the district spent on its superintendent three years ago, when the position was shared with Sigourney. School Board President J.J. Greiner stated he did not know the exact number, but believed Pekin was paying half of then Superintendent Kevin Hatfield’s salary of around $160,000, or about $80,000. Westendorf stated that the $121,000 will be paid out of the school’s roughly $2,300,000 in unspent balance and there would be no need to raise taxes. The attendee asked if some of the unspent money could be put towards teacher salary. He was told that the school board was focussing on the budget at the moment. The man stated that the public wants to know why the district ended up in a situation where they are “double dipping” superintendent pay and said there needs to be accountability. He stated that the public had been kept in the dark. Board Member Kortney Baumberger said this was for legality reasons.

The meeting moved to a more general round of public comment. One parent asked about the district’s legal fees, claiming that the district had spent three times as much on legal fees during each of the past three years than it had during each of the seven years prior. She stated that only the superintendent and school board president are allowed to call the attorney and that she had heard that Greiner calls frequently. The attendee stated she planned to use a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many times Greiner called the attorney per month when compared to previous board presidents.

The parent next brought up the fact that in 2022, Pekin abruptly ended years of sharing a superintendent with Sigourney. She stated she had been told the sharing agreement wasn’t good for Pekin. She said that she had emailed Greiner, asking what specifically about the sharing agreement was bad and for a copy of the agreement. She stated Greiner had replied that it was a basic agreement and not explained anything else. The parent stated she had spoken with Hatfield, who had told her it was a standard agreement commonly used in Iowa. This contract was held by Sigourney; it is common for the larger school district to hold the contract.

The parent explained that, in April of 2022, the Pekin School Board voted six to zero to continue sharing a superintendent. The same month, the Sigourney board approved the same thing. On May 2 of that year, a joint session was held between the Sigourney and Pekin Boards. The attendee said she had been told by people who had attended that some members of the Pekin board were rude. On May 11, the Sigourney board voted to rescind their decision and end the sharing agreement. According to the parent, Pekin paid $38,777 for a superintendent in the 2022 school year and $168,706 the following year. She asked how long the district could sustain this.

Another parent talked about emotional and mental health, bringing up the Pride in Pekin survey, where multiple anonymous teachers accused the district of verbal abuse and threats, much of it caused by the school board. The parent brought up the Oskaloosa school board’s decision to end multiple sharing agreements with Pekin back in March, citing the health and safety of their staff as a major concern. The parent claimed to have spoken with the Oskaloosa school and been told that the Pekin Board had been harmful to the emotional and mental health of shared staff. Finally, the parent stated she had spoken with former school board members who had all either resigned or refused to run again and been told they had left the board due to threats and negative behavior of other school board members. The parent stated that the school board denies these problems and places blame elsewhere, but three different groups all named the school board as the problem.

“I’m not saying all these issues stem 100% from the board,” said the parent. “Actually, through my investigation, the same few of you continued to be named, again and again. At what point do individual board members take accountability and start to change their behavior? If we want to improve the culture and the feeling that we are all working together to make Pekin a better place, that plan starts from the top with you, with positive changes, and then trickles down from there. Right now, I do not feel like Pekin is thriving. We are simply surviving, and that needs to change quickly, because there are a lot of us who care deeply about the staff’s health and happiness, because it directly reflects in their ability to teach our children. Our issues are not going to be ignored, hoping they will go away, and we are demanding to see change through actions.”

One parent asked if their were resources available to raise concerns over misconduct and the board’s behavior. She stated the public still wanted to know why the school board were involved in overturning a suspension last year. The parent complained about how, during the previous month’s meeting, Greiner had attended via zoom, with his face not visible to anyone but the rest of the board, leaving the public from knowing how he reacted to things. The parent closed her three minutes by saying that she would like several board members to resign immediately to show the community they want what’s best for Pekin going forward.

Also at the Monday meeting, Maeder stated the district had offered Liz Goodwin, a first-grade teacher from Washington, Iowa, the position of Elementary Principal and Childcare Center Administrator. “We believe that we got someone who is gonna really come and do some good things here,” said Maeder.

Maeder brought up AEA flow-through dollars. Due to education reform during this most recent legislative session, 60% money that previously went to AEAs for media and technology services and educational services now goes to districts, with 100% going to districts next year. This coming year, Pekin will have $42,500 to either give to the AEA or spend elsewhere for media and technology or educational services. Maeder stated that the AEAs provide a lot of services Pekin takes for granted, stated that four AEA staff members had been at the school that day for four hours each, something that he estimated would have cost $5,000 if the school had to pay a private company. Maeder explained that the AEAs are unable to plan for staff and personal, because they don’t know what schools will need, which puts schools in an awkward position, because they don’t know what AEAs have. Maeder brought up a resolution that half of the schools in the state had signed, stating they would continue giving funds to the AEA for one year, in return for no interruption of services. The board approved continuing to give money to the AEAs.

The school board approved purchasing new cameras from Access Systems, accesses control door swipes for doors, and repairing one door at each building using money from a state safety grant, which gave $100,000 to fix issues that were found in a safety audit. It will cost $49,362 to install the cameras, access control, and repair a door at the elementary school and $60,504 to do the same at the high school, with the rest of the cost being paid by the district. The new cameras will be tied into the school’s vape sensors and flag footage when they detect students vaping.

The board approved a 2.67% increase in salaries for each “stair step”, bringing the district’s lowest salaries up to the new minimum set by the state. The board also approved a $500 commitment bonus for certified staff who return contracts within seven days.

Trapp Shooting Coach Jill Silvers informed the board she and her husband were resigning, due to increased time commitment. She explained that there had been 12 students her first year students and were now 46, 24 of them from Pekin, and that the job had gone from one night a week to at least three nights a week, because they split practices in half for safety reasons and have a makeup practice on Fridays.



The News-Review

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