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Morris Area School Board authorizes more administrative help in principal's absence

MORRIS – Administrators in the Morris Area School District have been authorized to bring in more administrative help in the absence of High School Principal Craig Peterson.

On Tuesday, members of the Morris Area School Board and administrators had a frank discussion about how the district is faring while Peterson is out on paid administrative leave following criminal sexual conduct charges.

Board chair Kurt Gartland initiated the conversation with a proposal to hire an interim high school principal until Peterson’s paid administrative leave is concluded.

“Administration has done a super job putting things in place to take care of the job duties while our high school principal is on paid administrative leave,” said Gartland. “It isn’t just them it’s staff members, licensed staff – a lot of people have come together to plug and hole, and it’s a big hole to fill.”

Since Peterson was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 23, 2013, Activities Director Mark Ekren has served as dean of students and Superintendent Scott Monson has served as interim high school principal.

On Tuesday, both said that they felt work that affected students, parents and teachers was getting done, but they were stretched thin for other projects.

“I struggle a little bit doing my athletic director job because of the dean of students job,” said Ekren. “I’m keeping up, I will keep up, I’ll get it done, but I’m struggling a little bit right now.”

Monson praised the office managers, counselor Tammy Roth, and other staff members have stepped up to help in the interim.
“What Mark’s talking about is that when you have a position and you add to it, something gets slid off to the side and yeah, that’s happening now,” said Monson.

“I like to feel like we have some momentum built up in our district … I wonder if something changes and this goes through, it’s more likely that momentum is going to continue rather than get throttled back.”

Board member Robin Anderson asked whether the district could afford to pay another full-time principal.

Gartland acknowledged that it would cost money, but said the district has been given money to effectively educate students. Other board members suggested hiring a part time administrator.

“In these situations, there isn’t an easy answer but we still need to do what’s best for kids,” said Gartland.

“Coming into the end of the year, I think we need to have a couple hands on deck to help get through the end of the year,” noted board member Dick Metzger. “We don’t want anything to fall through the cracks.”

Board member Brent Fuhrman said agreed that more help would be useful, but asked what duties another administrator might be asked to fulfil.

“I don’t know if bringing in a retire superintendent/principal from some other district just for staff supervision – I don’t know if that would work so well,” said Fuhrman.

Monson said another administrator could help with curriculum review, standardized testing, high school registration or scheduling. If the district hired someone without an administrative license, the only things they would not be able to do are formal teacher observations and suspending students.

Fuhrman suggested that, depending on the help required, the district could hire someone without an administrative license which might be more cost-effective in the long term.

With that in mind, the board authorized the district administration to pursue securing additional personnel, including licensed and non-licensed individuals, until Peterson’s paid administrative leave is concluded.

Peterson, 36, has been charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree after allegedly assaulting an acquaintance at his home in Morris in December.

A pretrial hearing on the case is scheduled for Wednesday, March 19 in front of Judge Gerald Seibel in Stevens County District Court.

Board approves contract with teachers' association

This week, the Morris Area School Board and Morris Area Teachers’ Association approved a two-year settlement agreement.

The new agreement includes increases to steps and health insurance contributions for both year one and year two of the contract, as well as adjustments to the number of teacher workdays and workshop days.

Under the agreement, there will be a $1,300 increase to steps one through 14, and an additional $200 increase to step 14 in 2013-2014. The district will also provide an additional $500 to health insurance, making the total package a 4.8 percent increase over 2012-2013.

In 2014-2015, there will be a $1,400 increase to steps one through 14, and an additional $600 to step one. The district will also provide another $200 to health insurance and a four percent increase to extra- and co-curricular salaries. This results in a 4.22 percent increase over 2013-2014.

The contract also increases the number of workshop days from two to three and workdays from three to four. The contract also allows up to two hours of meetings/activities per workday with a total of four hours during the workdays.

Other business

  • The board accepted early retirement letters from Deb Felstul, Gretchen Gillis, Jerry Witt and Lyle Rambow. All four teachers will retire at the end of the current school year.

  • There will be school on Friday, March 14 to make up for a snow day.