Citing an alleged plan to remove the superintendent by the three new trustees elected May 18, the School Board voted to extend Seth Turner’s contract by five years, the maximum allowable term.
The board had previously extended the contract in 2013 and it was not set to expire until 2018. Turner will earn $174,555 this coming year.
The June 9 vote was 6–3, with trustees Angie Minew, Damion Ferraro and Krista Barringer dissenting.
The three trustees who will be replaced next month – Don Tucker, Tom Ham and Rich Petramale – voted in favor.
Several trustees made reference throughout the meeting to misinformation on social media surrounding the contract.
“I just want everybody to know that all this stuff being put out there is put out there for a purpose, and that’s to discredit this man right here,” said President George Heidcamp, gesturing toward Turner. “Because this new board has an agenda, and that’s my opinion. And that agenda is — and I’m going to prove it — they want to remove Mr. Turner.”
The statement elicited a skeptical reaction from some.
“You can smile all you want out there; that’s the real agenda. And I’m going to be on this board for another year. I don’t expect to be here [as president], but I’ll be on this board, and I will let anybody and everybody know if I see any mistreatment of this superintendent, or any shenanigans going on, I will expose it.”
The timing of the vote was controversial; it was a so-called “lame duck” meeting, between the election result and the July 7 swearing in of new trustees Mike Maclary, Jim Mooney and Bob Thomann.
In a statement, Minew pointed out that it was unusual to extend a contract three years before it expires.
“I do not feel that extending Mr. Turner’s contract any additional time at this point is necessary since two years ago he was provided with a five-year contract. General practice in most all districts is to review a contract in the final year. My opinion is in no way a reflection of his performance.”
Trustee-elect Thomann said the move lacked transparency because the agenda was not posted on the website until the weekend prior to the meeting. He also asked to know who had requested that Turner’s contract be extended through 2020. He said it set a bad precedent for other negotiations.
Thomann said his concerns were in no way meant to be “derogatory” toward Turner, as he had voted, in his previous tenure in office, to approve his contract.
Trustee Barringer also took issue with the timing.
“Additions were made to the contract that I wanted verified. We received the contract on Friday [June 5]. I did not see the urgency in rushing it through, and why it could not wait another month to have answers.”
Heidcamp replied that the policy for how and when the agenda was delivered was followed.
He also argued that the move was fiscally responsible. He said the contract kept Turner’s annual raise to a maximum of four percent, the same as it is now. He said the previous district superintendent, Richard Rhau, received higher annual salary increases.
Heidcamp stood by his allegation that the newly elected members Thomann, Mooney and Maclary had an agenda to remove the superintendent from office. He pointed to letters and posts on social media, largely written by their wives, as evidence. Heidcamp spent several minutes reading aloud these messages, some of which questioned the process and Turner’s qualifications.