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Colfax-Mingo votes 4-1 to contract Heartland AEA for superintendent services

C-M residents continue to voice concerns on superintendent search

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 8:58 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 9:08 a.m. CDT
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(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Colfax-Mingo parent, Michelle McKinney-McGill voices her concerns regarding the open superintendent position during Monday's scheduled board meeting. The board voted 4-1 to contract Heartland AEA for superintendent services.
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Former Colfax-Mingo board member Nancy Webb speaks to the board about her concerns with the open superintendent position during Monday's scheduled meeting. The search began after the board decided to not renew Tracy Hook's employment contract after it expires June 30.
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(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Board members Brandie Gean and Doug Van Dyke listen to residents voice their opinions on the potential sharing agreement with Heartland AEA. Gean is currently a member the organization's professional development team.
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(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Colfax-Mingo board president Mary Poulter and superintendent Tracy Hook hear the concerns of residents on the open superintendent position. The board decided to not renew Hook's employment contract after it expires June 30.

COLFAX – “Welcome Mr. Verlengia,” Colfax-Mingo board president Mary Poulter said during Monday’s scheduled meeting. “The motion carries 4-1.”

The C-M school board moved to approve a sharing agreement with Heartland Area Education Association for superintendent services amid the controversy surrounding the employment contract of current superintendent Tracy Hook.

Since the beginning of March, representatives of Heartland AEA have been weighing in on the superintendent search after the board decided to not renew Hook’s contract after it expires June 30. Jim Verlengia, the director of leadership support of the nonprofit education agency, was introduced March 20 as a potential staff member to fulfill the district’s superintendent needs.

“I’m looking forward to (working with Colfax-Mingo CSD). I’m enthusiastic about it,” Verlengia said after the meeting. “But also with that, I understand that there is some emotion behind this decision of the board with patrons and community members. I expect that very much. I’ll do everything I possibly can to build relationships with individuals during the course of my tenure to help us kind of move forward.”

April’s meeting opened with several members of the community voicing their concerns with the decision to purchase superintendent services from Heartland AEA. The board made this decision after discussing the potential replacement options during a work session April 3.

“I believe that with this new interim and the full-time one to follow, our district will have had six superintendents in the last six years. That does not allow for much continuity for the district,” former school board member Doug Garrett said at the meeting. “(Hook) has stated he is willing to help and keep things going, and even had offered to take a salary reduction to make it work for our district with the short run. With all due respect to the AEA folks, getting a half-time superintendent at $92,000 is not what is best for the district.”

The participants of the public comment period of the meeting reiterated their desire to know why the board has not released the reasons behind voting to not extend Hook’s contract. The board held a closed session Dec. 19 to discuss an employment contract.

“From my estimation and the people that I talked to, (Hook) has been fine,” former board member Nancy Webb said. “You people don’t seem to think that you need explain to the rest of the taxpayers why you are going to go through all of this and hire either an interim superintendent or go with the AEA.”

After supporting her 17-year-old daughter’s petition to retain Tracy Hook as C-M’s superintendent and voicing her on concerns at the board’s scheduled meetings, Michelle McKinney-McGill said she left April’s meeting worried about the direction the district is headed.

“I’m am very upset because it was only (board member Mardell Tomlonovic) who has listened (to my concerns). Every board member has seen the petitions, the comments, the hundreds of people that are opposing them, they just turn to turn their heads,” McKinney-McGill said after the meeting. “I think the whole ‘we are doing for finances’ thing is just hogwash... They are throwing away money like it’s nothing for these contracts when we have a good superintendent.”

The C-M residents also voiced their concerns with school board member Brandie Gean’s affiliation with Heartland AEA. Gean is currently a member of the organization’s professional development team.

“No matter how you look at it, this situation is a conflict of interest. (Gean) really needs to recuse herself from discussions. If the remainder of the board votes to hire AEA services, then she should resign,” Garrett said. “You can’t have an employee of that organization helping make a decision to hire them, nor can you have a person on the board literally be one of seven bosses of an employee who is involved in almost every decision concerning the operation of the school district.”

Despite their relationship, Verlengia assured there is no conflict of interest in his potential role as the district’s new superintendent.

“I do not supervise Brandie and she does not supervise me either. Her role is in the professional development side, among other things. My role is in the leadership support side with our organization. Do we see each other? Yes. Do we go to meetings together? Yes. But as far as an evaluated piece, we don’t have that. We have a good positive working relationship,” he said. “The conversations will not be around our relationship. They are going to be around a superintendent providing information to a board that she is a member of and making decisions that are in the best interest of children.”

The board voted 4-1 to purchase a sharing agreement for superintendent services at half-time for $92,000. This includes salary, benefits and mileage for transportation. Tomlonovic voted against the agreement. Gean chose to abstain from voting on this action.

“We want to move forward together when doing this. I understand the emotion. I understand the concern of what might happen with the unknown,” Verlengia said. “I will work with the philosophy of all kids all of the time. That is what my main focus will be. It is not who is my best friend or if I went to school with somebody, it is going to be what is in the best interest of the kids.”

The board will be voting on the specific details of the contract during May’s scheduled meeting. Heartland AEA superintendent services will begin July 1.

Also during the meeting, the board voted on increasing school meal prices for students and adults.

Nutrition director, Kerri Roling, recommended increasing breakfast prices for students from $1.40 to $1.45, lunch prices for students from $2.75 to $2.85 and adult lunch prices from $3.45 to $3.55. The adult breakfast price of $1.80 stayed the same.

The board approved the increases 5-1. Board member Doug Van Dyke voted against the increase.

In a 4-1 vote, the board also approved to renew the contract with Luke’s Lawn and Landscaping for the 2017 mowing season.

The board decided to renew the contract at the same prices as the 2016 season. Van Dyke voted against the renewal.

During April’s meeting, the board also voted to approve the hiring of a part-time custodian at the high school and accepted the resignation of co-assistant wrestling coach, Ben Skelley.

The board also unanimously approved the request for technology contractor services, the 2017-18 school calendar, the 2017-18 AEA purchasing agreement for the food service program and the renewal of the student teaching contract with Buena Vista University.

At the meeting, there were also discussions about a meal charge policy, the previous middle school building in Mingo and the selling of a house owned by the district.

Board member Jayme Trier-Lind, C-M Elementary principal Brian Summy and activities director Zach Tomas were not in attendance at Monday’s meeting. School board vice president Jan Myers participated in the meeting via telephone conference call.

Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at areyes@jaspercountytribune.com

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