In 4-3 vote, members of the Newton Community School Board voted not to extend Superintendent Bob Callaghan’s contract at Monday night’s board meeting.
Callaghan still has two years remaining on his contract, which runs until the end of the 2020-21 school year. Board members Ann Leonard, Donna Cook, Graham Sullivan and Robyn Friedman voted against renewing the contract with Travis Padget, Josh Cantu and Cody Muhs voting to extend.
The board had been scheduled to discuss Callaghan’s job performance and contract extension at their last board but rescheduled the discussion to allow board member Donna Cook to attend. Sentiment against Callaghan has been growing among teachers in the district, last week Deb Rose, President of the Newton Community Education Association (NCEA) urged teachers to attend Monday’s board meeting. In an email obtained by the Newton Daily News, Rose wrote a list of talking points that were sent to teachers on March 8, encouraging teachers to question Callaghan’s leadership.
Rose asked teachers across the district to share stories about how district leadership has had a negative impact on classroom activities. Citing increased class sizes, decreased building budgets, no curriculum adoption schedule and a lack of new textbooks for some content areas for more than 10 years, Rose urged teachers to share their opinion about Callaghan’s performance with board members. While no teachers spoke during Monday’s open forum, board member Robyn Friedman said she’s heard complaints in the past about the superintendent. On Monday night, Friedman said it’s not important how teachers voice their frustrations, it’s important for their voices to be heard.
“Voices are always good to be heard. I think that is a way to improve culture in the district,” Friedman said. “Whatever way people feel most comfortable doing that, is never wrong for that to happen.”
Rose’s email to members of the teacher’s union had a laundry list of complaints about the district’s leadership, including a lack of communication between staff members and district leadership. In her email, Rose suggested administrators have driven a wedge between teachers and leadership by suggesting teachers are to blame for the district’s budget woes.
“Refer to the comments at board meetings and in newspaper interviews pitting teachers against the budget. (i.e. if not for the need to pay the staff so much we wouldn’t have to make these cuts/be in this position,)” Rose wrote in an email.
Doug Smith, a teacher at Berg Middle School said he doesn’t agree with Rose. Smith, who’s not a member of the teachers union, spoke in support of Callaghan during Monday’s open forum. Smith said he’s seen Callaghan provide strong leadership for the district in the face of declining Supplemental State Aid and work diligently to balance the budget. He urged board members to support Callaghan and extend his contract for another year, saying it would be “heartbreaking” if the board chose not to renew the contract.
“Bob [Callaghan] is the leader of our district, he always puts the kids first,” Smith said. “To do this he has to hold adults accountable, that’s not always an easy job.”
Despite Smith’s strong show of support for Callaghan, there is the evidence that the superintendent has lost the support of many rank and file staffers in the district. A 2016 copy of the Denison Culture Survey obtained by the Newton Daily News showed a “significant disparity” between teachers and administrators. Out of the 255 teachers surveyed in the culture study, 174 responded to the survey. Teachers cited a “lack of shared vision” and complained that district leadership lacks a long-term goal. The study also found that teachers view goals and objectives as “unrealistic and not well communicated,” a view not supported by administrators. Communication remains a concern, the study identified “alarmingly poor scores” relating to conflict resolution, decision making and reaching an agreement.
In her “talking points” email distributed to union members, Rose encouraged teachers to discuss the Denison Survey, and she highlighted issues with communication between teachers and district leadership.
“Refer to the fact the we frequently only hear major news about the district in the newspaper, not from those involved,” Rose wrote in her email.
Board member Donna Cook said she’d received plenty of feedback from members of the community over the past two weeks. The feedback, combined with the closed session evaluation of Callaghan, was enough to make her decision.
“I think the board has received a huge amount of feedback and has had significant conversation both in closed session and with Bob [Callaghan],” Cook said. “I think expectations are pretty clear, and there’s no need for further discussion.”
With the board voting not to renew Callaghan’s contract, his future with the district remains uncertain. His existing contract runs for two more years, through the 2020-21 school year, something that board president Travis Padget is common practice for most superintendents. Callaghan has the option to finish his contract with a base salary is $164,128.
Following Monday’s board meeting, Padget said he still supports the superintendent, a sentiment board member Cody Muhs echoed, as well. Muhs said he’s satisfied with Callaghan’s performance, although he said board members had suggestions on how the superintendent could improve as well.
“We gave the reasons, both things that are positive and negative were done, and for that reason, I voted to extend his contract,” Muhs said. “We gave him the reasons of what he’s done well and what he has to improve.”
Following Monday’s board meeting, Callaghan declined to comment. During an interview last week he acknowledged he’s made some tough decisions during his tenure with the district, in his mind, he’s focused on “doing what’s best for the kids.” Although he’s willing to admit leadership positions can be tough, he’s proud of the accomplishments that have taken place within the district under his stewardship. Hearing voices of support from past board members and other community leaders was “humbling and heartwarming,” Callaghan said.
“I think it speaks to the fact they realize the difficult decisions I have to make, they’re not always popular, but necessary,” Callaghan said. “I have poured my heart and soul into this job, I have tried to move this district forward in the direction set by the board.”
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org