Brown Deer — After hearing mixed comments from the audience and hashing over such weighty issues as personnel and health care costs, the School Board on Monday narrowly agreed to renew the contracts of District Administrator Deb Kerr and building principals Marirose Lucey and Greg Schaffer.
Board members Leslie Galloway Sherard, Dennis Griffin, Dennis Lowder and Kathy Stresman voted to extend the three administrators' contracts through the 2012-13 school year, resulting in a 4-3 vote for Kerr and a 4-2 vote for the principals. Board member Kevin Wisth abstained from the principals vote.
The board's votes mean the administrators are entitled to a 2 percent pay increase. Kerr also will receive vesting into a health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA, plan in her fifth year of service, per the terms of her contract. She joined the district during the 2007-08 school year.School Board member Lisa Zielinski said her votes against the contract renewals were not personal; rather, she expressed a desire to do a short-term analysis of the existing benefits structure for administrators, which does not require employee contributions. Zielinski and Wisth advocated for holding over the renewals until January while further review took place.
"The votes have no reflection of the job that they're doing," Zielinski said. "I think the continuity of leadership is important."
Towle handling criticized
Kerr more recently has been criticized by some members of the community because of her directive in February 2009 to place Edward Towle, former business manager, on leave for a 17-month period of time. Lowder, who described Kerr as "competent," said the criticism is unwarranted.
"Let me assure you, every administrator has lawsuits coming out of their ears," Lowder said. "Deb dealt with this whole situation at the advice of counsel and in the best interest of the district. But there have been cheap shots, cherry picking of facts and personal agendas. I think that has been terribly unfair to Dr. Kerr."
Griffin said laying over a decision for a few months was not a prudent idea. Instead, he advocated for a long-term analysis of the district's existing benefits package in an effort to look for possible savings down the road.
"To look at this in such a short period of time is crazy," Griffin said. "We need to be sure to have the correct process. We do need to move forward with these contracts. It's time."
Residents speak out
Speaking earlier in the meeting, residents offered different perspectives on the contract renewals.
Some members of the community, including Kevin Klimek and Bruce Thomas, said a greater review of existing benefits should have taken place this past year.
"I feel like this is a missed opportunity," Klimek said. "I wish the board would have been a little more proactive."
Thomas, who is a candidate for the board, said he felt greater efforts should have been made to solicit feedback from residents.
"These are significant costs to the community," he said.
But other residents said the contract renewals - complete with raises and provisions for existing benefits - were warranted, given the amount of work administrators put in.
"I can't tell you how hard our administrators are working," said resident Ellen Schimenz, who has been serving as an administrative intern at Dean Elementary School this year. "I can tell you we have very dedicated administrators with integrity. They are hard working, and they care about our kids."
Concerns about the negativity surrounding contract renewals and other controversial issues within the district also were aired by some speakers at Monday's meeting.
"People that graduate from here are well adjusted kids," said former student Kristine Stresman. "This is a close-knit community. Why are we hurting one another?"
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