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updated: 3/22/2011 6:05 PM

Fenton delays renewing superintendent contract

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Fenton High School District 100 board members have delayed plans to extend contracts for the superintendent and associate superintendent.

The board was scheduled Monday to vote on contract extensions for Superintendent Kathie Pierce and Associate Superintendent and Principal Todd Leden that would have carried them through 2015. Their contracts currently expire in June 2012.

The issue was tabled without discussion Monday, apparently after some board members raised concerns about the timing of the extensions.

"I want to make it clear that I am happy and content with the job both of these individuals are doing, but it raises some serious eyebrows as to why we are doing this 15 months in advance and two weeks before an election," board member David Vogel said. "It can make people wonder if we are fearful the board is going to change and there won't be the votes to approve it."

Three seats are up for election on the seven-member board in the April 5 election. Incumbents Mabel Umeadi, David Sbertoli and board President Dorothy Lange face challenges from newcomers David Hermann, Laura Wassinger and Anthony Sumner.

Lange, noting that the board usually works a year in advance on contract renewals, said the election had nothing to do with the decision to delay the vote. The next school board meeting is April 25, both administrators will be evaluated then.

"If you wait until after the new board is seated, you're asking people who have never really worked with (the administrators) before to evaluate them, which really isn't fair," she said.

Lange said the delay will allow board member Maria Rivera, who missed Monday's meeting due to a serious illness, to participate. She said it also addresses concerns some members raised about incomplete performance reviews for Pierce and Leden.

Lange confirmed formal performance reviews should have been complete by March 1, but only a "preliminary review" was done in January. The district's attorney advised this did not meet legal criteria to renew their contracts, Lange added.

But Rivera said the entire issue caught her off guard.

"There was no mention about any of these two contracts at our prior board meeting," Rivera said. "There was indication we would have an auditing firm there and would be talking about our budget. But when I received my packet Thursday, I was surprised to see these two (contract) items on there."

In addition, Rivera and Vogel maintain they did not receive copies of the proposed contracts before the meeting and had to request the documents from Fenton's administration.

"It was like 'Can we put the brakes on this a little bit?,'" Vogel said. "Can we please see the contracts, have time to discuss them and have time to discuss performance and goals before we just automatically sign off?'"

The board will not vote on renewing the contracts until after the April 25 evaluations are complete. Any new board members elected on April 5 will be seated in May, and in June they will be faced with whether to approve pay raises for the two administrators. Pierce currently earns a base salary of $168,642 and Leden is at $154,546, according to Fenton's website.

Lange said any proposed raises are not yet determined.

Challenger candidates Laura Wassinger and David Hermann said they both have concerns about extending contracts for another three years in this slow economy. Sumner could not be reached for comment.

Hermann said he thought any new board members should have a say in the contract renewals. Otherwise, he said, "When the new board comes in, their hands are tied for however long the contract may be."

Wassinger said she believes contracts should be for shorter periods while the district faces a budget crunch.

"I don't know how you can plan three years out with the economy the way it is," she said.