Bad optics at D51

If School District 51 plans to ask voters to authorize a bond issuance or mill levy override next year — as it certainly should —  it needs to fix a poorly handled personnel decision at Mount Garfield Middle School.

Let’s be clear. Criticism of District 51 on this issue is actually criticism of Superintendent Steve Schultz, who seems incapable of seeing how he’s undermining the district’s credibility with voters.

The school district needs money for a number of sound reasons: It needs to invest in technology to support an ambitious performance-based learning model and it has several school buildings that need to be replaced or repaired.

Over the years, the district has trimmed expenses, with cuts to classroom personnel, support positions, textbooks and resources. But when presented with opportunities to realize cost savings at the administrative level, Schultz is reluctant to let the axe fall.

Case in point: Mount Garfield Middle School Principal Hal Templeton was placed on administrative leave after he received a summons for an alleged hit-and-run accident on Sept. 18.

The district could have kept Templeton in his position, fired him, suspended him pending resolution of his court case or let him apply for an existing opening in the district.

None of those things happened. Instead, Schultz resurrected a position that was cut in 2014 when a former district employee resigned following his arrest for internet exploitation and luring of a child. Templeton was “temporarily” reassigned into this position — droput retrieval and recovery — at his old salary of $81,063 a year. His replacement, former district Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen will come out of retirement to be Mount Garfield principal for the rest of the year, earning a $97,796 salary. It’s like the district’s getting one principal for the price of two.

If Templeton can’t be principal because he’s proven himself unfit for that role, why should he be retained at all — with a principal’s salary, no less? And is he the right person for a job that requires him to engage with students and be a role model? Or drive?

Schultz thinks so. He defended his personnel moves in Thursday’s front-page story by Katie Langford. But when we take this story and the “mutual separation” with former District 51 Communications Director Dan Dougherty, who received $66,831 in severance pay that was not required by his employment contract, we see a troubling pattern.

These questionable personnel decisions make it difficult to convince voters that taxpayer money will be spent competently. The district’s “visioning” process underway is an effort to establish the community’s expectations for a high-performing model of modern learning — presumably to frame the need for additional revenues to make that vision a reality.

Schultz is a very nice man with a huge heart. But he needs to stop acting in the interest of individual employees and start putting the health of the organization first. He’s hurting the students he’s supposed to be serving because he’s making a mill levy override more difficult.


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