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Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Area residents speak out against rehiring St. Henry schools superintendent

By Shelley Grieshop

St. Henry resident Jean Giere speaks at the school board meeting Monday night to. . .

ST. HENRY - Questions and allegations were flung at board members during a crowded meeting Monday night to discuss the possible retirement and rehiring of St. Henry Local Schools Superintendent Rod Moorman.
More than a dozen residents, teachers and other staff members spoke out during the open forum - most against rehiring Moorman, who has been superintendent at the school for nine years. No other district employees have ever been granted the option to retire and rehire for their position.
More than 60 people attended the public forum, which lasted nearly two hours. Board members are expected to announce their decision at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 15, following discussion of the issue in executive session Monday night.
The school's policy currently allows the board to choose whether an employee can retire and rehire for the exact same position. This allows an employee to begin to pull retirement benefits while still working a full-time job.
If hired back after retiring, Moorman has offered to obtain medical coverage through his wife's occupation, saving the district approximately $13,000, board President Ralph Nietfeld told the crowd as Moorman sat quietly nearby.
"He's going to retire regardless of whether he's hired back in St. Henry or somewhere else," he said, adding Moorman likely will seek employment elsewhere if not rehired at the school.
Nietfeld explained it's in Moorman's best financial interest to retire now due to the rules governing public employees' retirement. Hiring a new, qualified superintendent - regardless of their experience - may cost the district approximately the same as the salary package Moorman currently receives, he added.
Nietfeld also said it may be in the school's best interest to keep Moorman on because of his in-depth involvement in various grant funded programs like "Project Lead the Way," which are at critical stages right now due to government cutbacks.
Board member Ruth Nerdeman backed Nietfeld: "Do we really want to make a big change right now?"
Linda Thieman, school district bus driver and leader of the local youth group, threw numerous allegations at Moorman, questioning his professionalism and accusing him of intimidating employees from speaking out. She also accused the board of hiring out-of-district employees at top pay instead of posting the jobs for school staff.
Thieman reminded the board that if Moorman is allowed to retire/rehire, all other staff members should be granted the same option. She and another woman asked the board why teachers have not been allowed to annually evaluate Moorman's performance - something they did for prior superintendents, they added.
Nietfeld said employees don't evaluate presidents or CEOs in other places of business and the board "has no formal plan to do so" at the school. He said it might be a good idea but some staff members could be biased and might base their evaluation on prior disagreements with Moorman.
District resident Jean Giere told board members she was "frustrated and appalled that you would entertain the idea" to retire/rehire Moorman.
Cindy Huelsman, who works at the town library, said residents should keep in mind the district has been rated excellent or above during Moorman's tenure at the school.
"It's the system and you may not like it, but I think we'd be silly not to" rehire him, Huelsman added.
Resident Bill Stachler said "new blood" is sometimes better.
"Give someone else a chance," he said. "If we start this ... the next levy, we might see more 'no' signs than 'yes' ones."
Resident Marv Bruns agreed.
"Yeah, the savings with the insurance is a huge thing, but if this divides the community and festers, what kind of repercussions will there be?" he asked.
School Treasurer Glenn Miller said the board is "doing this to save money," which brought several people in the crowd to question whether the board had already made up their mind on the issue. Nietfeld assured them they had not.
Board member Bruce Miller described Moorman as the school's "point person." Miller said his personal decision will be based on what's best for the kids and the district. However, he believes it's not a good time for the school to be searching for a new leader.
"There's a lot of lousy superintendents out there .... I know what we've got here," he said.
Moorman said he'd like to stay with the school another five years, although board members said they've never penned more than a three-year contract for any position. Moorman currently draws a salary of $95,618, another $13,000 in health insurance benefits, 25 vacation days, 10 paid holidays and 15 sick days. The district also pays 14 percent of his salary toward his retirement.
When asked, Moorman said the retire/rehire process would indeed benefit him financially. He added that he loves his job and believes he has a lot to offer the school.
"I think it's about your attitude toward kids. You have to have that fire and I think I still do," he said.
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