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A decision is due – Our view: Address contracts next Monday

Last month, the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board was deadlocked on a decision to approve new three-year employment contracts for Glencoe-Silver Lake School District Superintendent Chris Sonju and Michelle Sander, the district’s business manager. Their current contracts expire June 30. In previous years, the board has previously decided to renew those contracts in early-November.
At the Nov. 13 meeting, motions to approve new contracts failed on 3-3 votes. In the wake of a failed operating levy referendum Nov. 6, the board members voting against new contracts -- directors Kevin Kuester, Donna VonBerge and Jamie Alsleben, the board’s chairman -- said the time was not right to OK new contracts negotiated in good faith, even if the salary increases the board and Sonju and Sander agreed to in separate negotiations are below inflationary.
Von Berge, Kuester and Alsleben did not say when the time would be right to approve new contracts. They offered no plan for the future of the two key administrative positions moving forward.
The performance reviews of Sonju and Sander received suggest they both earned new contracts. They have adroitly helped the board maintain solid financing footing.
If the school board intends to let Sonju and Sander go, that decision should have been addressed and made in November. Sonju and Sander deserve better. They have families and obligations. They deserve time to seek new employment opportunities. The district will need time to seek new leaders if for some unbeknownst reason the board decides change is needed.
Fast forward to next week. The school board’s agenda for the Monday, Dec. 10 meeting, its last scheduled meeting of 2018, had no mention of the board considering new contracts for the superintendent or business manager as of Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 4, when The Chronicle went to press.
The school board should not pass the buck to the incoming board in 2019 assuming a more favorable outcome. Two board members who voted for new contracts – directors Anne Twiss and Clark Christianson -- are leaving at the end of the year. Their replacements, directors-elect Alicia Luckhardt and Jonathan Lemke, should not be left to address the mess the previous board left behind.
If the school board decides not to renew Sonju and Sander, directors are certainly within their right to do so. Eliminating the top two administrators who deal with budget and business matters is at best unwise. Leaving Sonju and Sander’s contracts unresolved is hardly an example of solid leadership.
No matter what the board’s decision, these two professionals deserve to be treated better. How the school board decides to handle contracts moving forward, without a renewed operating levy, is a critically important decision. The board certainly can’t suspect negotiations with the unions representing teachers and para-professionals/clerical staff because the time isn’t right or some snide Facebook post.
With voters unwilling to pass a levy referendum, the board must still continue conducting the GSL School District’s business, regardless of whether the timing makes the decision uncomfortable.

- jm