After a sometimes contentious and confusing debate, the Sedona-Oak Creek Governing Board refused to approve teachers’ and administrators’ contracts for the 2017-18 school year.
The board voted 3-2 against issuing contracts to rehire teachers after Zach Richardson and Randy Hawley each objected to the inclusion of two teachers, and Heather Hermen one.
Richardson said he’d received reports that one teacher had been swearing in front of students, making fun of students and telling them he couldn’t close the classroom door because people would think there was molestation taking place.
There was confusion over whether Hawley, Hermen and Richardson were talking about the same teachers because board members are prohibited from discussing personnel matters publicly.
Hawley, who is president of the board, Hermen, the vice president, and Richardson, the past president, voted against issuing the contracts.
In addition to the teacher she had concerns about, Hermen objected to the fact that she was given the list just a day before the meeting, which took place Tuesday, April 4.
Board members Karen McClelland and Karl Wiseman voted to approve the contracts.
McClelland suggested changing the contract-approval procedure for next year, but said it wouldn’t be fair to change the rules this late in the game.
In addition to McClelland and Hermen, Hawley and Superintendent Dave Lykins also expressed support for re-examining the procedure.
Lykins has pushed to get contracts issued, in part so that the district knows which teachers are not coming back next year in order to recruit replacements. Wiseman asked about the deadline and Lykins said Saturday, April 15.
There were 52 teachers on the list of certified contracts, in addition to three counselors and one librarian.
After voting to delay issuing the teachers’ contracts, board members unanimously agreed that it wouldn’t be fair to then approve administrators’ contracts. On that list were principals — Darrin Karuzas, Sedona Red Rock High School; Jay Litwicki, Sedona Red Rock Junior High School, Scott Keller, West Sedona School; and Deborah Jones, Big Park Community School — as well as Finance Director Lynn Leonard and Curriculum Director Deana DeWitt.
Administrators, other than Leonard, are responsible for evaluating the teachers.
It was that fact that led to some friction.
Hawley, who mentioned a couple of times during the meeting that he had worked as an administrator in his career, said, “99.999 percent of the time I will accept the recommendation of a principal, but not in this case.
“It’s bad business to have two teachers who we all know are marginal.”
Richardson said he has never challenged administrators in public until Tuesday’s meeting. However, he had made his objections known in meetings with administrators in regard to the teachers he spoke of Tuesday. “I can’t tell you how many parents have talked to me about [one of the teachers]. They said if their kids get that teacher, they won’t be staying in the district.”
The following day, Richardson said he has 15 pages of documentation on the two teachers he objects to rehiring.
He also said he had planned to raise his concerns at Tuesday’s meeting, but didn’t know that Hawley and Herman would do likewise.
In response to those concerns, Litwicki said at the meeting, “I sense you guys are more frustrated with us administrators because we are recommending people you don’t agree with.”
A number of administrators said that the district uses an evaluation that conforms to state statute. “As a certified evaluator, I follow the rubric and evaluation instrument with fidelity,” DeWitt said. “I’m confident of my recommendations for rehire.”
Litwicki added that he recommends some teachers who don’t score highly on an evaluation because he believes they will become effective teachers.
Keller said he was concerned about how his teachers would take the news about the board’s vote.
“I address my staff tomorrow and they’ll be asking, ‘Is my contract renewed or not?’”
He questioned the wisdom of holding back contracts for all teachers because of issues with just a few.
“If two kids are not behaving in class, you don’t punish 30 kids,” he said.
Hawley interjected, “I know it’s hard to take this personally ....”
Keller replied, “I’m not taking it personally.”
It wasn’t clear from the discussions at the meeting whether the board could have removed the teachers in questions from the list and approved the rest.
Lykins could not be reached at the district office on Wednesday, April 5, to comment on that question or what the next steps are.
Hermen said on Wednesday that Lykins would have to consult with the school district’s attorney on the matter.
She and Richardson said independently, however, that it’s likely the teachers in question must be notified that the board is considering action and will be given the option of having it be discussed in a public hearing or an executive session of the board, which is closed to the public.
They said an emergency hearing would likely be scheduled as early as next week.
Although the board put the certified and administrative contracts on hold, it unanimously approved letters of employment for classified staff — bus drivers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians and others.
Two other employment items on the agenda did not go smoothly:
Tech and HR
Prior to the board’s approval of the classified list, Hawley sought to remove Technology Director John Parks, who is also a guidance counselor, and Kathleen Hutchison, who works in human resources.
Hawley called out Parks for not getting the district’s new website up and running, and criticized Hutchison for not developing a strategy for recruiting teachers.
However, several staff members, including Lykins, pointed out that Parks’ time is split between his two positions, and his tech responsibilities include much more than just the website. Leonard then said that teacher recruitment is not Hutchison’s responsibility.
Hawley, who was elected to the school board in November, got some good-natured advice from the veteran Richardson: “Give it a year, Randy ... you’ll get an idea of these people’s roles.”
Hawley apologized and withdrew his request. After the board approved the classified list, he added, “Let the record show I recognize my errors.”
The board declined to waive the district’s conflict-of-interest policy in order to allow Lindsay Keller to apply for an open teaching position at West Sedona School, where her husband is the principal.
Although most of the board members and school officials at the meeting voiced an overwhelming desire to have a teacher of Keller’s caliber in the district, a close vote upheld the nepotism policy.
Hawley voted against the waiver; McClelland and Wiseman voted to allow it; and Richardson abstained. Hermen said she opposed the waiver, but was inadvertently listed in the record as having abstained. It had no effect on the final result, however, because three votes were required to approve the waiver.