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School district won't say what it plans to pay Hayden in new COO position; new questions about timing of superintendent's resignation

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Lawrence school district leaders won’t say how much they intend to pay soon-to-be ex-Superintendent Kyle Hayden in his new role as chief operations officer.

When news broke on Friday that Hayden intended to resign as superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools — a position that pays him $205,000 annually — and take a new position of chief operations officer for the district, spokeswoman Julie Boyle declined to provide expected salary information for the new position, which still requires board approval. On Monday, board president Marcel Harmon told me he also wouldn’t disclose what salary number the school board will be asked to approve at an upcoming meeting.

“The contract will not be released,” Harmon said via email in response to a question about whether the public could see the proposed COO contract prior to board approval. “It is not standard policy for boards to release administrative or teacher contracts, including salary information, to the public prior to the board’s approval.”

Board members are scheduled to approve the COO contract at their special board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The district’s refusal to provide advance information about the salary of the COO position creates questions about what already is an unusual personnel move by the district. District officials have said they expect the creation of the COO position to be “budget neutral,” but they have not provided any details to back up that assertion.

The salary figure is the key piece of information the public needs to evaluate whether the district is meeting its goal of making the position budget neutral. As it stands now, the public is not likely to receive that information until after the board has voted or, at best, perhaps a few minutes before the vote, if board members choose to mention the salary number as part of their public meeting.

The district’s refusal to release the salary information is odd, given than Hayden’s salary and other employment terms will be required to be released by law. The contract will be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.

When pressed for a further explanation, Harmon said via email that he believed there is good reason to not release contract details prior to a board vote for this position or any other position. He said the board’s refusal to release salary information or other such details “is based in part on not bogging things down.”

“If the community needed to have systemic input on every hire, including overviews of contracts/salaries, even just administrative hires, that would bog the system down,” Harmon said via email.

However, state law seems to be designed to give the public that very opportunity to comment on individual hires made by school districts. State law generally requires all employment contracts to be approved by the Board of Education. Superintendents, for instance, don’t have the administrative authority to commit the district to an employment contract without the approval of the Board of Education. Such approvals of employment contracts must be done during a public meeting.

Given that state lawmakers went to the trouble of creating a system that requires elected officials to approve the contract, and to do so as part of a public meeting, would seem to indicate that lawmakers intended for the public to have some say in the matter.

The Lawrence school board routinely approves many employment contracts throughout the course of the year. In the vast majority of those approvals, the public cares little about the details. However, I had always assumed that if members of the public did care to see the details of a pending contract, that they would be allowed to do so. Now it appears that the board has a policy that creates an awkward situation: Board members are approving a contract that the public can’t see beforehand. The contract, of course, commits the district to spend public funds.

Harmon said he’s not sure the public is all that interested in having the information about the COO position beforehand. If the board hears otherwise from the public, he said there’s a chance additional details may be released.

“If we were to receive a significant amount of public input that they wanted a chance to provide feedback prior to the board’s vote, we would consider that,” Harmon said via email.

The salary figure is a key piece of information but it may not be the only detail members of the public want to know. There are also questions about how much overlap the new COO position will have with a position that is already on the district’s payroll — executive director of facilities and operations.

When details were announced on Friday, the district described the COO position as the manager of the recently approved $87 million in bond improvements. The position also will oversee the facilities and operations department, capital improvement planning, planning related to enrollment projections, school boundaries and other issues. The director of facilities and operations currently handles many of those duties.

When board members on Friday were asked about the potential overlap of the COO position with that of Tony Barron, the current director of facilities and operations, they largely said it would all work out for the best.

“Tony’s plate is full, without these upcoming projects,” school board member Jill Fincher said. “Tony really is at capacity doing what he’s doing.”

Harmon has doubled-down on that talking point. I asked Harmon about the timing of Hayden’s resignation. Hayden’s resignation is scheduled to take affect July 1. The board believes it could take the district until February to hire a replacement. The board will have to spend time and money to hire an interim superintendent.

Given that Hayden is remaining with the district, it creates a question about why Hayden simply wouldn’t agree to stay on as superintendent until a replacement is found. Board members have said they aren’t forcing Hayden to resign from the superintendent position. I asked Harmon for an explanation of why Hayden wasn’t staying until his replacement was found.

“We need him to step into that role sooner rather than later,” Harmon said via email. “The bond implementation process will be underway by July 1, and we need the COO at the helm of the bond implementation.”

That statement creates another question: If Hayden hadn’t decided to resign and accept the COO position, was the district going to need to hire a COO to manage the $87 million bond issue?

If that is the case, many voters likely were not aware of such a need. During the course of the months-long campaign for the bond issue, the need for the new position was not a point highlighted to voters.

Comments

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 days, 15 hours ago

Wait a minute. This is NOT a private sector position. They have to say how much they are paying him. He is being paid with our tax dollars; it's public.

David Klamet 6 days, 14 hours ago

These are good and reasonable questions Chad. I'm glad to see that the LJW is asking them. Personnel matters do, often, require some degree of secrecy. In this situation, though, for the reasons you describe, this secrecy is troubling.

We have to have faith in those chosen to lead. At a national, state, and now local level, that faith is being tested. This is not Watergate, but it is a bad precedent.

Steve Jacob 6 days, 14 hours ago

Very good reporting. USD 497 got the check, they don't have to pretend to care about the tax payers anymore.

Deborah Snyder 6 days, 13 hours ago

Mr. Harmon. Since. When. Did the board or its members decide on whether or not a particular high-ranking, peculiar job swap from Superintendent to Corporate Operations Officer gives full disclosure to ANYONE who asks, let alone our local newspaper??!

That newspaper, Mr. Harmon, is read daily by note than 87,000 people, and "Hell, Yes" we wanna know what funding STUNT is being pulled now regarding this bond issue.

I strongly suggest you and the board and our so-called Superintendent that this district hired at great expense, beating out several other well-qualified applicants, RECONSIDER your conduct, attitude and behavior.

You will give a thoughtful, thorough e plantation to the paper, or face a very ngry public at your next meeting.

YOUR CHOICE.

Francis Hunt 6 days, 11 hours ago

This is absurd, this school board and soon to be former superintendent are out of control. Tax payers need to rein them in and soon. They got our $87 million, they create a new position, the superintendent wants it, eight months to find a new superintendent (at what cost), on and on and on. They are sleight of hand experts, as well as inefficient, fiscally irresponsible and have no sense of accountability to anyone except themselves. Marcel's standard answer is to refuse to disclose anything and everything. They continually think they operate in a bubble and conveniently forget they do answer to the voters. I say do a public search for COO and superintendent. If Hayden wants the job make him apply for it.

Richard Andrade 6 days, 10 hours ago

It is curious that the first paragraph of Marcel Harmon's USD497 bio (https://www.usd497.org/Page/1238) says "I am honored to serve as a board member. This is a large responsibility, one that requires a willingness to listen and learn, a willingness to engage the community in the decision making process..." [emphasis mine].

As someone who voted for the recent school bond proposal, the continued antics of this board (hey, remember when they didn't think it was important to actually talk to the candidates vying to fill the recent vacant board seat?, http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2017/mar...) upset me. This disregard of basic transparency to the people you are supposed to be serving is arrogant.

You can email Mr. Harmon at mharmon@usd497.org to let him know how you feel. I plan to.

Richard Heckler 6 days, 10 hours ago

I am willing to wait until the numbers are more or less written in stone. Then the BOE can come back to state what they intend to do. After all this a new position so there is likely a few challenges yet to be known as yet that might need some tweaking.

I say give the BOE at least 4 more weeks = haste makes waste.

It would also be good to know the extent of authority attached to the new position.

Then again I believe a salary of $205,000 annually is a bit much for superintendent. In reality $100,000 a year could get my support.

Another suggestion could be split the $205,000 between the two positions.

Is there a person currently on staff that could fill the superintendent position? that might not mind a salary of $100,000?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 days, 10 hours ago

I like your idea about splitting the position. It is a lot of work.

Richard Heckler 6 days, 6 hours ago

Teaching classes is a lot of work. Being a superintendent is a lot of work. The world of education is no place for slackers.

I was suggesting that the $205,000 salary be split between the the two positions.

At least until the state regains composure by funding public education as has been dictated by law. The only way that can can be accomplished is reinstating those taxes.

The Brownback admin is following the dictate of the Koch/ALEC dynasty to defund and dismantle make no mistake about it.

I have no problem with the new position. However pushing the BOE to discuss the matter before they have their ducks in a row might not be fair.

David Teska 6 days, 9 hours ago

I don't recall the COO position being part of the bond initiative we recently voted for yet now we learn the COO will manage it: "...the manager of the recently approved $87 million in bond improvements."

Thomas Sadler 6 days, 9 hours ago

Was this position advertised? At least internally? Was Mr. Hayden part of the search committee?

Patty Buchholz 6 days, 8 hours ago

I do not need to know Mr. Hayden's reasons for resigning his superintendent position. I do know he did his job well. I read it would be best for he and his family and that is a good reason. I will say I was at the community meeting where high school students were allowed to curse and swear and call out members of his family that had nothing to do with the meeting. I also watched the school board meetings that were out of control and some board members refused to adhere to rules of the meeting and disrespect Mr. Hayden, the rest of the board and the district and community as a whole. A school board member's job is not to try to micromanage the everyday operations of the district. That is why we hire leadership in district management. These folks have experience in education, leadership and finance. Perhaps the board should look in the mirror and ask themselves what they might do to improve their elected positions and how to help the district going forward.

Tony Peterson 6 days, 7 hours ago

Interesting that this happened just two weeks after the school bond issue was passed (not with my vote) and there's now a new COO contract being discussed with a contract the school board won't release.

Something smells here,

Richard Heckler 6 days, 6 hours ago

Teaching classes is a lot of work. Being a superintendent is a lot of work. The world of education is no place for slackers.

I was suggesting that the $205,000 salary be split between the the two positions.

At least until the state regains composure by funding public education as has been dictated by law. The only way that can can be accomplished is reinstating those taxes.

The Brownback admin is following the dictate of the Koch/ALEC dynasty to defund and dismantle make no mistake about it.

I have no problem with the new position. However pushing the BOE to discuss the matter before they have their ducks in a row might not be fair.

Deborah Snyder 6 days, 4 hours ago

I sent a letter to Ms. Horst, District Six Representative on the State Board of Education. It's been forwarded to several other SBOE members with ties to Lawrence.

I want to emphasize how important transparency and trust are in representing the community's financial investment in public education. I also believe in responsible accountability and good old common courtesy.

I saw none of that in today's Towntalk article. If the school board cannot or will not explain this "staffing" issue with Chad Lawhorn, then how, precisely, will anyone else get them to??

Paul Silkiner 5 days, 4 hours ago

From the LJW:

“Harmon said he’s not sure the public is all that interested in having the information about the COO position beforehand. If the board hears otherwise from the public, he said there’s a chance additional details may be released.”

I am a member of the local tax paying public with children in USD497. I am interested in having all of the information about the COO position beforehand.

I look forward to receiving the information and any response you think responsible before the School Board’s vote.

Sir, may I suggest, that you need to pick your political battles with more due diligence!

Paul Silkiner

Matthew Mikel 2 days, 23 hours ago

If the $87 million bond FOR THE SCHOOLS had not have passed, would the "COO" position have even been created or would have Mr. Hayden even resigned, but conveniently staying on to help allocate the funds to where he sees fit? How gracious of him. Instead of spending such a large sum of money to make the schools look prettier, why not kick a little more of that money towards teachers salaries? I'm thinking that prettier schools aren't going to improve test scores or help motivate teachers to do better since their schools are more ornate. It appears that the school board has adopted the same standards of accountability, or lack-there-of that our shoddy governor and lackadaisical state legislature seemed to have embraced. If Mr. Hayden FEELS he is unable to fulfill the role as a superintendent, why allow him to even stay on as a COO? Why not use the salary that Mr. Hayden is requesting for his gracious services as a COO to hire another Super, which might help save local taxpayers money instead of paying a COO and a Super simultaneously, and send Mr. Hayden on his way. Also, if the board is going to serve an 8 course meal of bull fodder (lack of transparency, pulling a "Trump-no-show-tax/no-show-Hayden's-contract", etc.) at least provide condiments.

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