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Moving forward: GSL contracts should’ve been renewed

T here is little reason to doubt GSL School Board Director Clark Christianson is a thoughtful, measured man. His words at last Monday’s board meeting were from his heart and mind.
Christianson was frustrated directors Donna VonBerge, Kevin Kuester and board chairman Jamie Alsleben opposed new contracts for Superintendent Chris Sonju and Michelle Sander, the district’s business manager in the wake of a failed operating levy. We recognize Christianson’s befuddlement with the rationale the three board members used to justify opposing new contracts.
VonBerge, who based some of her opposition to comments she read on Facebook, said the timing of the renewal wasn’t “right.” Voters had just soundly rejected a levy increase. But when will the time be “right?” VonBerge conceded she didn’t have the answer to that question. She, Kuester and Alsleben were asked what their plan was in opposing renewal of the contracts.
They offered no response.
If the time wasn’t right, why was staff directed to place the contract renewals on the agenda for the Nov. 12 meeting? The contracts were originally on the board’s September agenda and pulled at the last minute without warning or explanation. Alsleben would only say at the time there was no reason to address renewing the contracts since Sonju and Sander were under contract until June 30.
What is especially perplexing is VonBerge helped negotiate the new contract for Sander before the referendum vote Nov. 6 and then voted against its approval last Monday night. The proposed contract is well within the financial parameters for new agreements the board set last spring. It is also disappointing a director who negotiated an agreement based a decision on the district’s top staff on pithy comments made on a Facebook page.
If Sonju and Sander are not performing as expected, the board is within its right to not renew their contracts. But there is no sign of that. Director Kuester stressed the decision was not “personal.” We understand what he is really saying, but the effects of the board’s vote are very personal.
Could anyone rightfully blame Sonju and Sander for feeling their work is not appreciated. Sonju and Sander were the chief promoters of the referendum. Board members did little publicly to promote the levy referendum. Sonju and Sander carried the weight of promoting what proved to be an unpopular proposal.
If Sander and Sonju are doing their jobs well, the renewal of their contracts should not depend on Facebook posts.
If the GSL School Board as a whole is unwilling to approve new contracts for Sander and Sonju, what message is the board sending to its unionized teachers? With the levy question expected back on the ballot next fall, how will the school board be able to negotiate in good faith a new contract with the approximately 100-member teachers’ union if posts on a Facebook page can scuttle a potential agreement?
The school board must move forward and base decisions on what happens at the polls. Yes, “the people have spoken,” as VonBerge said. With that in mind, GSL Schools continue to move forward.
- jm