Archive for Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hackett on leave

Board turns tables, retains principals

March 23, 2006

In a dramatic turn of events, the Basehor-Linwood school board last week renewed the contracts of two embattled principals -- and, in essence, cast no-confidence votes against the superintendent.

Superintendent Jill Hackett currently is on 30 days' administrative leave, which she requested at the March 15 meeting.

Minutes later, the school board reversed earlier decisions that had extended Hackett's contract until June 2008. So now, her contract expires in three months.

Bill Hatfield, assistant superintendent, will take over Hackett's duties.

"We encourage the support of Mr. Hatfield during this difficult time," said board president Kerry Mueller.

The board will meet Monday, March 27, most likely in executive session.

Mueller said, "The board will get together to discuss what it is we've heard (from staff members) and what to do next."

The board, Mueller said, has not decided when the district might have a new superintendent.

"There is no decision made about the future," she said Thursday. "It could go either way. The attorney recommended taking the action we did last night."

Attempts to reach Hackett on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The March 15 action was the culmination of many hours that board members have spent in the past week -- reading e-mails, taking telephone calls and listening in closed-door sessions to district staff members.

Hackett had recommended that the board not renew contracts for the two principals -- Steve Blankenship from the high school and Teri Holmes of Basehor Elementary. In fact, in February, the board voted to inform Blankenship that his contract would not be renewed for next school year. And Holmes said the superintendent requested her resignation, telling the elementary school principal that the board supported her in seeking Holmes' resignation. But the board had taken no public action against Holmes.

An ensuing public outcry forced the board to take a harder look at the two principals' job performance -- and the superintendent's.

Board members met in private sessions for nearly 16 hours this week, talking among themselves and with district staffers.

On March 15, as board members voted to renew the two principals' contracts, the audience erupted in applause and cheers. The vote on Blankenship was unanimous, while Danny Dearinger, whose wife is a secretary at Holmes' school, cast the lone vote against extending Holmes' contract.

"Our votes to renew these contracts are based on the judgment that, while personnel issues have been identified, they are not sufficient for non-renewal at this time," the board president said.

After the vote, Blankenship briefly addressed the crowd gathered outside the boardroom. Among that group were parents, teachers and students, including a group of girls, who wore turquoise T-shirts that said on the front: "Blankenship or ..." and "Bust" on the back.

"The support here's been awesome," the 39-year-old Blankenship said. "I feel that I stepped up to the plate, but I had the power of 1,000 bats behind me."

Like the superintendent who wanted him gone, Blankenship has served in the district for nearly three years.

Holmes, the elementary principal, is in her fifth year in the district. She also has 20 years' experience in Park Hill, Mo.

After the board's vote, she called for unity among the district.

Mueller echoed that sentiment.

"It's our hope that all of the staff members work together and move forward," the board president said Thursday. "We're doing great things in the district, and we hope and fully expect there will not be any grudges or conflicts over this. The important thing is to work together and move forward."

The board president said although the many meetings this week were time consuming and difficult, they were worthwhile.

"The board members were glad to take the time and commit the time necessary," she said.

After board members restored the two principals' futures with the district at the March 15 meeting, they met for about 10 minutes with the superintendent in another closed-door meeting. Soon after, Hackett left the district offices.

And then the board reopened its meeting to the public and voted to approve a 30-day administrative leave that Hackett had requested. The board also rescinded earlier extensions it had made to Hackett's contract, which now will expire this June.

According to the district's payroll clerk, Janis Newton, Hackett currently is making $103,821 annually. In addition, she is paid $6,000 annually because she holds a doctorate, and she is paid a $4,800 vehicle allowance because she uses her own car. The district also pays for Hackett's dues to professional organizations.

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