School Board addresses nettlesome Principal issue

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

As the staff turnover continues in the Cherokee School District - with a dozen more resignations and new contracts extended at Monday night’s monthly School Board meeting - Superintendent Kim Lingenfelter continues to battle to retain three Principals as the District transitions to two buildings by next school year.

Pressed on the matter by Board member Logan Patterson, who raised the issue three months ago, Lingenfelter produced comparability data involving 10 hand-picked schools of similar size to Cherokee, “some a little larger, some a little smaller,” according to the Superintendent.

There are 367 public school districts in Iowa and Lingenfelter picked 10, including Red Oak, Shenandoah, Roland-Story, Iowa Falls, Union, Clarinda, OABCIG, Okoboji, West Central Valley, and Monticello as schools suiting her purpose. She then compared their data with Cherokee’s.

Lingenfelter has at least one ally on the Board agreeing with her efforts to retain three Principals for the two buildings. Board member Paul Fuhrman, a former Cherokee school administrator and teacher now retired, said he favors two Principals for the new Elementary (PK-4) and existing Middle School (5-8) because of the number of students attending the future combined K-8 facility.

Patterson is pushing for a Board decision by the September monthly meeting because a “new” Board takes effect after the November elections, with three seats up, including Fuhrman’s, Laura Dawson’s, and Patterson’s. Fuhrman and Dawson are seeking another term, while at this time Patterson maintains he is not running again, citing the ongoing turmoil within the District. Laura Jones and Chuck Wulfsen also serve on the Board and have two years left in their four-year terms. Dawson is seeking her sixth term - a District record for longevity (24 years).

At Monday’s meeting, Lingenfelter held firm, strongly recommending that three Principals be retained despite the fact the District is moving from three buildings to two. Wade Riley is Washington High Principal, Scott Aden Middle School Principal, and Valarie Fuhrman Elementary Principal.

In buttressing her cause, Lingenfelter reiterated how busy the Principals are and the time and effort they spend on student achievement and working closely with the teachers.

“It is not my recommendation to go to two Principals. It’s the Board’s decision. But I strongly recommend we stay at three,” said the Superintendent, who at times had a spirited exchange with Patterson, who said he could find no school district in Iowa with more administrators than buildings.

Patterson, who chaired the meeting as Vice President in the absence of President Dawson, said the Board will digest the comparability data and hopefully render a decision at the September meeting. The possibility of hiring an assistant in some administrative capacity in lieu of a Principal’s position also was discussed with no outcome.

Three of the Board’s five members must vote either way to swing the “two or three” issue that would save the District approximately $100,000 annually if two Principals were agreed upon.

The past couple years there’s been controversy in the District, with some teaches/coaches/staff leaving their positions and publicly citing workplace abuse, including “bullying” by certain administrators. This may or may not factor in how the Board votes on the number of Principals in the District.

(See resignations/new contracts in adjacent story on this page.)

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