Lake County School Board Members, in a split vote, decided Monday not to embark on a search to replace embattled Superintendent Susan Moxley.
Board Members Kyleen Fischer and Tod Howard voted for a superintendent search because of their dissatisfaction with Moxley’s performance. But Debbie Stivender, Rosanne Brandeburg and Bill Mathias rejected the idea, saying it was unfair to Moxley.
Howard, who had been accused of bringing the superintendent search forward because he is up for re-election this year, denied the allegation.
“I talked with Steve Johnson, (the attorney) about this months ago,” he said “My understanding is it takes six to nine months to do a superintendent search. That is the point we are at. We only employ three people. That is our accountability.”
The superintendent’s contract is up in June 2015.
While stating he chose not to rehash his reasons for calling for the search, Howard said: “We are facing a fairly significant crisis for a community and it concerns me to continue to move forward in this direction.”
Howard expressed frustration with Moxley recently after she reassigned Lost Lake Elementary School Principal Rhonda Hunt to Eustis Heights Elementary, an underperforming school, over the objections of parents and teachers.
One of Howard’s other concerns was the high turnover rate of principals and assistant principals at many other schools, and the fact that Lake County is no longer an “A” district.
Howard previously said the class-size controversy earlier this year also played a part in his decision to call for the search.
That controversy erupted when a review found that many schools were violating the state’s laws governing maximum class sizes. During the review by an outside consultant, 136 teachers said they were asked to sign reports related to class-size requirements that they knew to be inaccurate.
Surveys were sent to teachers, administrators and data processing staff, the review stated. Out of 2,818 surveys, 1,518 were returned.
No board member addressed the class-size violations in the meeting.
Mathias stood up for the superintendent, stating she is “honest and straightforward.”
Further, he said the district was ranked 64th out of 67 counties in student funding.
“Based on our school numerical grade, we are ranked 24th in student achievement,” he said.
Mathias also did not agree with the “A” district argument made previously by Howard and a member of the audience.
“Forty counties dropped a letter grade,” he said.
Mathias said it was best to evaluate the superintendent in November.
But Fischer urged the board to press ahead.
“I think there are issues you and I have spoken about that there has been no resolution to,” she said.
Brandeburg said when problems surface, the superintendent accepts responsibility.
“Before we go and get rid of Dr. Moxley, who I believe has done a remarkable job, we need to put together an action plan with accountability measures,” she said after the meeting.
Brandeburg said graduation rates had increased under the superintendent’s leadership.
Speaking to the district grade issue, Brandeburg said the only time the district had an “A” rating was in 2007, when it received the highest funding from the state.
Since then, she said, that funding has dropped dramatically, and is only now beginning to rebound.
Out of 17 districts including Lake, there were eight “A” districts in 2008 compared with one in 2013, according to district officials.
Debbie Stivender, chairwoman of the board, said there has been 60 changes in the state grading formula since 2010.
“She has done so many things for our students and teachers,” she said of Moxley. “I don’t always agree with the people she moves and I believe there are some that need to be fired. But my responsibility is to set policy and make sure the budget is balanced.”
Stivender said she could not support a superintendent search at this time.
“There is always an issue that comes up to help somebody get reelected or not reelected,” she said. “To waste $35,000 for a consultant and committee members, I don’t think it is the right time.”
Howard said his desire to search for a replacement for Moxley was based on the need for greater accountability.
“I am not trying to be vindictive,” he said. “I want to make sure we have the time to make a well thought out decision for the board.”
Fischer then added she would be interested in an accountability period of 90 days to come up with a list of things for the superintendent to address.
But the idea received little support.
“In every county there has to be an accountability piece,” she said.
Moxley said after the meeting that she did have a vision for the district and does hold staff accountable.
“We are looking at the district from a systemic point of view,” she said.