Parents, teachers drill South Putnam superintendent contract
Two weeks after parents and community members met to show support for administration, bringing in a new superintendent has invited concerns about transparency from school leaders.
Bringing these concerns to the forefront, they confronted the South Putnam School Board Tuesday evening during a public hearing on a proposed superintendent’s contract.
Betsy Biederstedt of Administrator Assistance started the hearing with a rundown of the search process, which began last September after Bruce Bernhardt announced his retirement. Twelve candidates ultimately showed interest, which she said was an “extremely healthy number” in the current education climate.
After what was described by Biederstedt as a “healthy discussion,” the board narrowed the 12 down to six. Those individuals were then interviewed and reduced to three. Biederstedt noted that the full board reviewed all the candidates and made a decision. This was before Anthony Heavin and Craig Newby resigned.
Susan Traynor Chastain of Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis was also invited to outline the meeting’s purpose. She acknowledged in the same vein, however, that there were “some pretty big issues of concern for the community.”
Chastain noted that meetings have to be advertised 48 hours in advance, and that these notices must outline their specific statutory purpose. As such, she reminded the audience that this meeting was only for public comment on the content of the superintendent’s contract.
Fulfilling state statute, the school corporation had a summary of the contract posted on its main website since April 22. It was also published in the Banner Graphic on April 23.
Chastain stated that she only drafted the contract and did not have any part in the search.
To a question about how many board members are needed to approve a contract, Chastain said state statute requires a majority of the board to do so. This can be done in South Putnam’s case with three out of five members present.
One audience member stated that the contract offers the lowest salary compared to Putnam County’s other superintendents. As such, she posed whether the board was looking to hire a “long-term fit who will be rooted in the community.”
“A lot of times when you negotiate, you look at a number of factors including experience,” Chastain responded. “But in terms of what the number was, I’m not sure what went into that.”
To another question about the period of the contract, Chastain said a three-year contact is standard when it comes to school administrators in general. The board would evaluate the superintendent during this time. It would make a decision whether or not to extend the contract afterward.
Another audience member asked whether candidates who were internal or otherwise local “more qualified or less qualified” than the one chosen. As she would imply more than once, Chastain said such a question broached on personnel specifics.
A point of contention among the group was the board tentatively approving the contract next week. This was due to concerns that their comments and questions might not be addressed before then.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion because we’ve had two board members fall away,” one parent said. “There’s a lot of confusion because there is a lot of back-and-forth that we’re not allowed to discuss, which leads to more back-and-forth that we’re not allowed to discuss, that (then) leads to more chaos.”
“This just feels like a formality, that it’s already been made up with only three board members,” a South Putnam teacher added. “We’re here because we love South Putnam, and we want to keep the culture, and we want to keep our teachers because we want to teach students the best that we can.”
Along with Chastain, Biederstedt, Bernhardt and Administrative Assistant Terri Beasley, board members Hollie Hutcheson, Wes Hacker and Lisa Cooper were present for the meeting.
South Putnam Schools has posted a more detailed version of the superintendent’s contract on its main website.
The board will have a special public meeting this Friday beginning at 6 p.m. in the Central Elementary School gymnasium to interview six board candidates. They include Joseph Roach, Cassie McDaniel, Greg Hinchman, Tammy Brothers, Kristin Rogers and Clay Henry.
The board will then have another special meeting Monday, May 10 at 6 p.m. in the South Putnam MS/HS Learning Center to appoint the new at-large and Warren Township representatives.
The next regular meeting of the South Putnam School Board is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12 at 7 p.m. in the South Putnam MS/HS Learning Center.