Erickson to finish career as part-time official
The Tonganoxie School District’s superintendent will not return to his post when his contract ends in June, but will remain with the district until retirement in 2010.
By a 7-0 vote at Monday’s board meeting, the board approved the measure not to renew Superintendent Richard Erickson’s contract. However, the board did approve Erickson being transferred to a new part-time position — special projects manager — which will begin after his current contract expires and will conclude June 30, 2010. In addition, the board approved Erickson’s retirement, which will be July 1, 2010.
His new role will carry an annual salary of $36,000. Erickson’s current salary is $106,250.
Asked what the new part-time position will entail, board president Diane Truesdell and vice president Leana Leslie said Erickson would report to his replacement and assist with special projects the new superintendent assigns.
In a written statement, Erickson said he was thankful to the supporters who wrote or made phone calls on his behalf during the past month. He said it was through their efforts that he would be allowed to finish his career in the district.
“A special thanks to the wonderful building administrators, educators and a number of great board members that I have had the opportunity to work with over the past 13 years,” Erickson also wrote. “My two children, and I believe all children in USD 464, have benefited from the great work of the above listed people.”
Roughly 50 people attended the meeting, with nearly 20 of them meeting individually with the board in executive session. Each had three minutes to express views.
When the board announced its decision, many people filed out of the Tonganoxie Middle School library, as some could be heard saying “shame on you” and “this is a sad day for Tonganoxie.”
Leavenworth County resident Joyce Williams said Erickson “knows what he’s doing” and is a good person, adding the decision was a “cop-out.”
In December, the board voted, 4-3, its intent not to renew Erickson’s contract.
Asked whether the decision was a compromise, Truesdell responded that it was unanimous.
Board members haven’t commented about Erickson since the initial vote took place in December, citing they wouldn’t discuss personnel matters.
Erickson came to Tonganoxie in 1996. Supporters have pointed out the district has improved during his tenure, and a $25.3 million school bond issue passed in 2004. In 2007, he also was the subject of a contract buyout of an assistant administrator and a tax filing error that cost taxpayers nearly $370,000. Erickson rectified the error by lowering the mill levy this year and figuring in interest.
Karlye Weatherford, who has worked with Erickson on various community projects, said the board was as much to blame for the tax error because it should have also evaluated the document or hired someone to also check it.
“Instead of pointing a finger, he took the blame,” Weatherford said.
She added that not renewing the contract “was a very bad choice” and she thought it put the district at a disadvantage in now finding a replacement in what she viewed a short amount of time.
She described Erickson as a “Godly man” and full of integrity.
The board met for nearly three hours total in executive session. During that time, the board met alone, with patrons individually, as well as with Erickson.
Alan Theno was among those who met with the board individually. Theno’s son successfully won a sexual harassment lawsuit against the school district in federal court. In 2005, he was awarded $440,000 total.
Theno said the board should vote not to renew Erickson’s contract, noting “the buck stops with him.”
He noted Erickson had done good things, such as his work with the bond issue, but said the bad outweighed the good. And, he said accountability would be important with the next hire.
John Morgan spoke to the board also. He supports Erickson and said he trusted Erickson’s leadership with children in the district.
“I think it’s time for some people to get past their personal issues and agendas,” Morgan said.
The list of patrons who spoke to the school board individually during executive session were: Mike Bogart, Debby Pestock, Larry Meadows, Dennis Bixby, Glenna Coldsmith, Leah Mullen, John Morgan, Mike Bronson, George Cooper, Frank Smith, Jeanne Smith, Mike Vernon, Earleta Morey, John Grasso, Alan Theno, Karlye Weatherford, Bill Weatherford, Diane Titterington and Randy Wager.
The board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the TMS library to discuss its search for Erickson’s replacement.
In other business, the board:
• Heard about the accomplishments of Tonganoxie Middle School students. Erickson presented Tonganoxie Middle School principal Jill Dickerson with certificates for standard of excellence achievements. The school received a certificate for building level reading, eighth-grade reading, eighth-grade mathematics, seventh-grade reading and sixth-grade reading. Dickerson said she was thankful for the recognition and said “I want you all to know we have wonderful staff here and wonderful children.”
• Accepted the retirement of Gerald Nelson, bus driver.
• Heard from Keven Ward with Trane about the school’s energy audit. A special meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26 at the Chieftain Room in Tonganoxie High School to discuss the investment grade audit and define the scope of the energy solutions project.