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Muskegon School Board Faces Close Vote, Tough Crowd on Rehiring of Administrator

Andrew Trzaska | August 17, 2011

Muskegon school board members who voted to keep on an administrator set to be eliminated by budget cuts faced much public opposition on Tuesday.

Cuts in the district’s 2011-2012 budget passed earlier this year were across-the-board, in a move billed as everyone taking their share of the cuts.

Negotiations on the budget included the elimination of approximately 30 teachers and 5 administrators when the budget passed back in June.

Among those was administrators was the principal of Muskegon Community Education, David Evens.

Since then, several voluntary layoffs have pushed the number of teachers laid off by the district and are looking for work to 19, according to former acting superintendent Betty Savage.

It appears, however, with Tuesday’s 4-3 vote to retain Evens in his current position, the number of administrative positions that appears to be dropping.

Multiple faculty and staff members from the Community Education building spoke out about building morale at their place of work, stating the teacher cuts and work culture were hurting morale.

With the decision to keep Evens, the building will lose 3 of its 8 teachers but will retain both of its administrators.

Board trustee Cindy Larson indicated that while the board should not be deciding job performance of faculty or administrators, the board had a responsibility to listen to those closest to the situation, in this case the faculty at hand:

“I believe we need to listen to the men and women who are working directly with any situation,” said Larson. “Not just Mr. Evens, but any situations.”

Board vice president Louis Churchwell indicated at Tuesday’s meeting that Evens provided young male students a role model in the district, which justified keeping him on the job.

Also a topic of discussion Tuesday was the salary paid to Evens, cited by multiple sources as over $100,000, and totaling near $150,000 after benefits.

Multiple voices from the public, echoed by board members Marian Michalski and Lynnette Marks, questioned whether that money could be used to hire back multiple teachers, parapros or even custodians.

“We must realize we are heavy on administration,” said Marks. “If we have that money to spend, it is better spent on teachers and other things.”

Among the topics of performance, costs and whether administrators or teachers are better role models for students, questions about whether the budget was made in good faith were raised as well.

District resident and officially-announced school board candidate Kevin Munster alleged as well that on a technicality, Evens was never technically let go by the district.  Evens has collected paychecks and will continue with Tuesday’s vote.

Munster argued that this invalidates terms dictated in the budget that five administrators would be let go, and that the board had not negotiated in good faith with teachers and the public with the reversal on administrative contracts.

“Where are your priorities? What are you thinking… you negotiated in good faith to cut 5 administrators.”

Munster has officially filed to run for school board this November and publicly announced his candidacy to attendees after the meeting Tuesday.

“I’m not comfortable that we are going back on the administration [cuts], that we are bringing back an additional administrator,” said Marks on the issue of changing what was passed in the budget.

In the end, Poole, Churchwell, Bill O’Brien and Billie Bruce voted to reinstate Evens, reversing the layoff.

Larson, Marks and Michalski voted to maintain the layoff.

Board president Rev. Charles Poole defended the board’s passage of the vote.

“We all have integrity… We have confidence in our administration, and we will continue to have confidence in our administration.”

This issue rises during a period of transition for the district. Not only did Muskegon Public Schools have to cut about $10 million from its budget this year, but Tuesday’s meeting was the first public board meeting for John Felske, new superintendent for the district.

It was not publicly stated by the board where the money to reinstate Evens would come from.

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