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SJSD Committee Meets to Review Stipend Issue

The group of 16 board members, principals, teachers and members of the public agreed something must be done with the St. Joseph School District's stipend policy to renew public trust.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) An ad-hoc committee of board members, administrators, teachers and the general public met Wednesday evening to look at the complicated and controversial St. Joseph School District stipend policy.

The group of 16 came ready with plenty of questions for administrators who have taken considerable criticism over school stipend practices.

Following revelations that Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka awarded more than $250,000 in stipends to chief administrators without board approval, a state audit has begun and the FBI is investigating, even issuing subpoenas for documents.

Weeks later, Human Resources Director Doug Flowers disclosed that additional stipends had been awarded to staff over the course of several years without board approval.

The controversy has unveiled friction between Flowers and board of education member Chris Danford as well as a sense of mistrust between some faculty and the district office.

Based on the discussion during the hour-long meeting Wednesday, committee members know the public is watching.

"I have a responsibility to make sure we get our questions for our taxpayers and our public and out teachers answered," said Brad McAnally, the store manager at Hy-Vee and a volunteer on the committee.

"At this particular point in time there needs to be more transparency," said Dr. Molly Pierce, a retired teacher and principal from the St. Joseph School District. "We need to restore the public trust in our public schools and in the methods we use to compensate our employees."

Committee members want to be sure they look at the issue in its entirety before making any decisions.

"We aren't going to rubber stamp something but we want the answers and we want to change the way we've always done it in the past."

After hearing some of the discussion, most think stipends awarded for extra duties should be done away with entirely.

"Some of the responsibilities are just part of the contract," said committee member Howard Harmsen, a former associate superintendent. "If they feel they need a stipend for it, it should be listed in the contract rather than as a stipend."

Committee Chair Dennis Snethen agrees doing away with stipends is a first step to regaining public trust.

"The problem is we have this black eye in the public that we have hidden agendas and hidden stipends," Snethen said. "What we're trying to do with this task force is explain the stipends first and do away with those."

One problem for the group is that principals do not have contracts yet for next year. Stipends are included as part of their pay.

Snethen is concerned that the uncertainty of contracts could lead other school districts to come in and recruit SJSD principals away.

"To associate a principal and vice principal with the problems we have with other administrators, that's why I wanted to separate them because they're the good guys," Snethen said. "Nobody has a problem with a principal or vice principal but we don't want to hold their contracts up."

A vote to confirm the principals' contracts with the stipends failed. The group will meet again on Thursday.

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