By Rick Palsgrove
The Groveport Madison Board of Education renewed Superintendent Bruce Hoover’s contract in a split vote.
On Dec. 10, the board voted 3-2 to renew the contract with board members Nathan Slonaker, Nancy Gillespie and Mary Tedrow voting to approve while Bryan Shoemaker and Libby Gray opposed it.
The new three-year contract for the superintendent will run from Aug. 1, 2015 to July 31, 2018 with no increase in the annual base salary of $120,000. The new contract also authorizes the board to pay $9,000 into a tax deferred annuity for the superintendent, up from $7,000 in the previous contract. Hoover’s current contract runs from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015.
“It is not uncommon for boards to be split in their decision-making process,” said Hoover. “I am proud our board takes their roles seriously by weighing, above all else, what they believe is in the best interests of the students.”
Shoemaker said each board member voted based on their own convictions.
“Although we were not in total agreement on the vote, we act as one unit and will move forward as such,” said Shoemaker. “We are dedicated to the operation of the district and its well being. Although we don’t always agree with one another, we all want what is best for our students. We look forward to strengthening relations between the district and the community and feel positive about the direction the district is heading.”
The contract renewal comes after the Groveport Madison Local Education Association (teachers’ union) issued a vote of “no confidence” in the superintendent in November by a vote of 381-8.
Immediately following the board’s vote to renew the superintendent’s contract, about 70 teachers who attended the December school board meeting got up and walked out as a group.
Responding to criticisms of his leadership from the teachers and community members, Hoover said he believes everyone has their own reasons.
“I am supportive of people exercising their right to share their opinions,” said Hoover. “I am disappointed they decided not to stay to hear about the new pathways program we are developing for the high school and the early learning initiatives we are working on to help children of pre-school age become kindergarten-ready. These programs will help increase student achievement. I would like for them to see we are focused on providing programs that will provide positive outcomes for our students, the district, and the community.”
In November, the teachers indicated to the school board they are dissatisfied with Hoover’s administrative practices, fiscal management, transparency, communication and leadership. The GMLEA cited as a problem the budget cuts in recent years to physical education, media specialist programs, special education and foreign language while (according to information obtained in public records requests by the GMLEA) longevity and continuity pay (which is pay that must be paid back if the employee leaves before their contract expires) was approved for some building administrators, including the high school principal, who receives a continuity bonus of $13,729 yearly on top of his base salary of $106,271. The GMLEA states this was done while the teachers took four zero percent base salary increases and two step freezes the last four years.
The GMLEA, according to information it obtained in public records requests, also claims Hoover approved raises for some administrative office personnel in the 2013-14 school year, including one raise for a little more than $9,000.
The GMLEA alleged that, during a time when cuts to student programs were maintained, Hoover gave continuity bonuses, additional STRS pick-up, and annuities to administrators while their base salaries remained the same.
Hoover disputes the GMLEA’s overall view on this issue saying one administrator did get a $9,000 increase because she was eligible for a step increase, but, as he recalled, this administrator was the only administrator to get a raise in four years.
The GMLEA further alleged Hoover at times did not follow the negotiated agreement between the school board and GMLEA, which resulted in 24 grievances filed since he was hired on Sept. 8, 2010 and that seven unresolved grievances were forwarded to arbitration compared to just one since 1997. Under the two previous superintendents, only four grievances were filed, according to the GMLEA.
“The board of education has been made aware of the very serious concerns the teachers, nurses, social workers, therapists, and other members of GMLEA have about how leadership decisions are affecting our students’ educational opportunities,” said GMLEA President Joy Bock. “The GMLEA does not get a say in those decisions, but we will continue to work diligently on behalf of our students and our community to do what is in our power to ensure that students have the opportunities for success that they deserve.”
The teachers’ contract expires June 30, 2015 and negotiations for a new contract begin in the spring. Bock said the GMLEA is not considering a strike. Bock said the teachers’ vote of no confidence in the superintendent has nothing to do with the upcoming contract negotiations and she said she believes anyone who implies that it does “is trying to scare the community.”
Maria McGraw, who was co-chair for the Committee for Better Schools, which campaigned for the district’s levy and bond issue last May, feels the board members who approved the contract “showed a complete disregard for the input of important district stakeholders. If they had at least considered a short-term contract to provide an opportunity to measure progress in addressing the teachers’ and community concerns, it wouldn’t be so disheartening.”
McGraw said the fact that both the board president and vice president voted against the contract, combined with the teachers’ recent vote of no confidence, demonstrates “there is a lot of work to be done on the administration’s part to rebuild trust and faith in our district’s leadership. When 98 percent of teachers take such a serious measure to express concerns it is not something to ignore.”
A board member responds
Board member Nancy Gillespie defended the contract renewal stating Hoover has done what the board has asked, including: replacing aging buildings and obtaining state money; developing a master facility plan; working with the high school administration to change the culture in the building to help public perception; adding AP coursework; creating continuity of leadership at the high school by retaining the principal; bringing preschool to the district (a digital preschool pilot begins next fall); raising the public perception of the school district within the community; bringing the Straight A grant and partnering with other districts to bring training for blended learning; and establishing a social work program to address at-risk students’ needs arising from family issues, which Gillespie says takes some of this burden off teachers and principals so they can focus more on student achievement.
“We asked him (Hoover) to cut, cut and cut some more to balance the budget, but do it by laser cutting to our district, not machete cutting, saving money but still keeping the core intact,” said Gillespie. “We know reorganization of services and programs will not make everyone happy every time. He has worked to make sure the right administrators are in the right places to work with teachers to make sure decisions are driven by data, not anecdote.”
Gillespie said Hoover has a heart for children, especially children from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“He believes education is the ticket to a better future for children and, if you knew his own life story, you’d understand why,” said Gillespie. “He believes in our teachers and that they will work to do what’s best for the kids, and that it is possible to have collaboration between teachers and administrators to reach our goals.”
Gillespie is disappointed with the criticisms of Hoover.
“I feel they forget other districts also experienced budget cutting and the attending drama,” said Gillespie. “They are so unforgiving of a new superintendent, although once upon a time they were new teachers and probably didn’t make their parents or students happy at some point in their long careers. I was disappointed that, in making their visual point of all walking out of the board meeting together at the end of the contract vote, they (the teachers) missed the presentations on digital preschool and high school pathways, which are going to change their work dramatically for the better.”