2012 leaves unfinished business in District 191

The announcement by Superintendent Randy Clegg that he plans to retire at the end of the school year was one of the newsmaking events of 2012 in School District 191. Photo by Rick Orndorf

The announcement by Superintendent Randy Clegg that he plans to retire at the end of the school year was one of the newsmaking events of 2012 in School District 191. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Chance controversy, Clegg resignation announcement made headlines

In School District 191, 2012 was a pivotal and tumultuous year that left much unfinished business.

Free, full-day kindergarten, hailed as an important step toward bridging race- and income-based achievement gaps, was approved in January and started this fall.

School Board members felt the wrath of critics over the buyout of administrator Tania Chance, but the noisy controversy didn’t prevent  the incumbents from prevailing in November’s board election.

Superintendent Randy Clegg, saying the Chance controversy had damaged his relations with the board, announced he will resign at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Officials are still knee-deep in various proposals to  smooth out enrollment imbalances between schools and disperse concentrations of poor students in the name of educational equity. And, there’s a superintendent to replace.

From the pages of Sun Thisweek, here are some of the 2012 highlights in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.

Kindergarten

Officials say full-day kindergarten for everyone will extend its proven academic benefits to the students who need it most but whose families can least afford  it.

When the board approved the program in January, only 45 percent of district kindergartners were enrolled in the district’s fee-based, full-day program. Forty-three percent of kindergartners who qualified for free or subsidized lunch were enrolled.

“All of our students, regardless of their family income, should be afforded the right and opportunity to benefit from our public full-day kindergarten program,” Clegg told the board.

The district had a free, full-day program in 2003-04 that fell to budget cuts. This time, Clegg said, funding problems won’t scuttle full-day kindergarten anytime soon.

The district is using part of its mushrooming allocation of compensatory aid — state money based on the number of students who qualify for free or subsidized meals — to fund the program.

Buyout controversy

In January,  the board approved a separation agreement with Tania Chance, the district’s human resources director, that allowed her to resign voluntarily on Feb. 1 and be paid $254,815 to sit out the last 18 months of her two-year contract.

When the district released a copy of the agreement, several lines were blacked out. The district claimed the lines were potentially “private data” under state law that it could not release.

Hostile reaction to the mystery-shrouded buyout  mounted quickly. About 200 teachers and residents stormed a March 1 board listening session, with some of the 25 speakers calling for board member resignations and promising retribution at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, Thisweek Newspapers (now Sun Thisweek) had received an unredacted version of the agreement showing that the 39-year-old Chance had filed charges “pending with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and/or Equal Opportunity Commission” as well as a complaint about Clegg with the Minnesota Board of School Administrators.

The agreement included her withdrawal of all charges.

Under media and citizen pressure, the district’s attorney, Maggie Wallner, sought an advisory opinion from the state Department of Administration’s Policy Analysis Division on her conclusion that the redacted portions of the agreement were indeed classified under state law.

Nearly two months later, on April 20, the department  issued a finding that the district erred in shielding parts of the agreement. State law requires disclosure of terms and specific reasons for public-employee buyouts of $10,000 or more.

Wallner had contended that only information in the agreement that revealed its terms was public.

Since Chance dropped her complaints, the nature of her dispute with the district is still unclear.

Responding to the controversy, Burnsville legislators Rep. Pam Myhra and Sen. Dan Hall both chief-authored legislation to expand disclosure of information behind public-employee buyout deals.

The biggest change shepherded by Myhra and Hall, both said, is an expansion of the public officials to whom the language explicitly applies. It now includes not only high state positions, but also a number of  management positions in cities with more than 7,500 people, counties with more than 5,000 and school districts.

“There’s more that we could do, but it is a huge improvement over what we had before,” Myhra said, calling the expanded definition of public official “90 percent of the reform.”

Board election

The Chance controversy  may have contributed to the size of the field in November’s School Board election, but it didn’t stop the incumbents.

Sandra Sweep, Ron Hill and DeeDee Currier were re-elected in a seven-way race for three four-year board seats.

Robert VandenBoom, an appointed board member, won election in a three-way race for one two-year seat.
Clegg to resign

The Chance controversy did affect relations between the board and its superintendent, Randy Clegg.

In a Sept. 17 interview announcing his resignation at the end of the school year, Clegg said he has “no doubt at all” that the public outcry soured the board’s relationship with him.

“Not uniformly,” he added. “Each board member shared their thoughts and feelings, and some would share that feeling.”

A separation agreement “is a pretty common practice” in public education and one District 191 has used in the past, Clegg said.

“There are sometimes employees that aren’t working out well, they need to move on, and this is a way to facilitate that process as opposed to going through a formal termination process, which can get very messy and oftentimes can be very expensive,” he said.

His announcement followed the board’s conclusion that Clegg didn’t meet three of seven standards on his annual job review. He’d met all standards in three previous annual reviews.

Yet board officials – and Clegg – say they’re pleased  with reforms he’s made over four years in a district whose rapidly changing demographics have added urgency to narrowing race- and income-based achievement gaps.

After 35 years in public education, Clegg said he’ll probably leave the field, and he looks forward to shedding the long hours of a superintendent.

The board solicited proposals from superintendent search consultants and narrowed the list to three. Interviews with the firms were scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 3, with a possible selection that evening.

Facilities

The board is continuing to mull Clegg’s proposals  to have families choose their elementary school, close the Burnsville High School senior campus and add ninth grade to the high school.

Meeting in a workshop Oct. 4, board members didn’t appear completely sold on Clegg’s proposals, which include dividing District 191 into east and west zones of elementary magnet schools and compelling families to choose a school within their zone.

The goals are to better use buildings and to disperse concentrations of poverty.

Elementary school utilization rates range from 130 percent of capacity at the popular William Byrne STEM magnet to 81 percent at Marion W. Savage.

Concentrations of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals range from 69 percent at Sky Oaks Elementary to 21 percent at Harriet Bishop Elementary.

“The face of the district will be changing,” Board Member Sandra Sweep said in a post-election interview.  “It has to. We have great curriculum, we have great teachers, but we don’t have equity among our buildings, and that trickles down to the students sitting in the desks.”

In early 2010, the board backed off boundary changes recommended by a board-appointed task force. The changes, which met massive parent resistance, could have sent up to 774 elementary students to different schools.

Achievement gaps

Most grade levels in the district lagged state averages in math and reading proficiency on state tests given in spring 2012.

The results are found in the 2011-12 Annual Report on Curriculum, Instruction and Student Achievement, which the board approved  Sept. 20.

Additional test data showed wide achievement gaps for black and Hispanic students, low-income students, students learning English and special education students.

“That’s what’s going on in our district,” said Board Member Dan Luth, who said he’s “ashamed” of the 30-plus-percent difference between white and black students in math.

42 years

The district’s most senior teacher, Terry Ruhsam, retired in June. He worked all of his 42 years as a Metcalf Junior High social studies teacher, teaching government, economics and American history to eighth-graders for most of his career.

“Forty-two years at Metcalf on the second floor,” said Ruhsam, whose last   room assignment was 204. “I tell people that and they just kind of roll their eyes. I will say that there’s been a lot of people I worked with here at Metcalf who stayed here their entire careers.”

Contract

A new contract ratified in March gave teachers a 1 percent raise in salary schedule over the next two years.

That’s half the raise teachers got in the previous two years under a contract that expired June 30, 2011.  That two-year pact raised the salary schedule by 1 percent a year.

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