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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Madison Rehires Schaefer as Superintendent -- Why Vince Should Blog

The Madison Central School Board earned their pay last night. They spent three and a half hours in executive session before voting 5–2 to offer freshly retired Vince Schaefer a new contract as superintendent. Of interest: the nays on accepting Schaefer's resignation in December were Mark Hawkes and Paul Weist. The nays on rehiring him last night were Steve Nelson and Michelle Tucek (who might have been reminded about something she said about contracts at the last meeting).

At least the lengthy deliberations suggest that the four other applicants who took time to interview didn't come for just a dog-and-pony show. I thank you four, whoever you are, for your efforts.

There's been some grumbling around the community about what some folks perceive as double-dipping. Schaefer's retire-rehire doesn't actually cost us taxpayers any money. The only solid problem I've seen is the hassle of cleaning out Schaefer's office, temporarily reassigning duties (Vince owes someone donuts), and going through a job search mid-year. I can also see a possible double standard: while teachers are free to try taking advantage of retire-rehire before the state legislature abolishes the opportunity with SB 18, it's unlikely teachers would create a month-long disruption of their classrooms just to increase their income... and if they did, would the school board be sympathetic?

There would have been less grumbling if Schaefer had been more up front with the community. Schaefer did say when he resigned, "It's time for me to activate my benefits," but that was all we heard. He made no public comment about his full intentions. He left all of us to guess and gossip.

Now I know it's a hassle as a public employee to have one's financial decisions become a matter of public discourse, but that's the price we pay for choosing a career in public service. So why not just be completely open about it? Imagine how different the public discourse might have been if the first words on the issue were not news reports and my blogging but a blog post straight from Vince Schaefer. Imagine if we had woken up on December 14, logged onto bigdogvince.blogspot.com (it's available!), and read something like this:

I care about this school. I've done a good job and I want to keep doing a good job. But the Legislature is about to take away benefits that I was promised when I signed on for this career, and I need to take some quick action. So tonight, I'm going to submit my resignation, but I plan to re-apply for the job as soon as it's advertised. It won't cost you taxpayers a penny... and Sharon, I'll buy you donuts for covering for me while I'm out, promise [imaginary blog post from an alternative-universe Vince Schaefer, "Russ Olson Made Me Do It: Why I'm Resigning," BigDogVince.Blogspot.Com, 2009.12.14].

Vince Schaefer probably said things like this privately. There would be nothing wrong with his saying such things publicly. Leading that public conversation might even enhance his stature and demonstrate his leadership and commitment to the community.

Some superintendents do blog. It's not hard.

But apparently in Madison's political culture, we treat information as a threat. We don't talk about what's going on. We don't let people in on the deal. We keep even perfectly reasonable arguments behind closed doors. We go around and tell each other things one-on-one instead of putting everything out in the open so everyone can be on the same page.

It seems to be the same situation with the city and the Rosebud lot. We could benefit from knowing exactly why the city is waiting around to sell and develop that property. Why do we do this? Why do we miss opportunities to share information, to treat everyone as equal participants in the conversation, and run the school and the city and the county as something other than a secret?

Oh well. Vince is back on the job. And I'm o.k. with that. Vince is a decent guy. He does his job well.

But he could do his job even better with a blog and a little more public discourse.

bigdogvince.blogspot.com. It's available....

Update 12:35 CST: A little more openness up front might also have averted the need for board president Jay Niedert to speak of the need to "resolve and rebuild confidence and trust in our superintendent."

Oh yeah
, and we'll be voting on an opt-out ($250K per year for four years) on April 13.


  1. Federal employees, if they do the double dipping thing, can retire and collect retirement benefits, but if they go back to work, their salary is the difference between what their retirement check is and their prior salary, NOT both. Seems this would be a good way to handle this. This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I'm sure many others. I would like to retire, collect SS, and also collect my full salary on top of that; SS seems to think that is wrong! Wonder why? The newly rehired supt might be doing a good job, might be a nice guy, but this is wrong and the sooner this law, loophole, or whatever is closed, the better.

  2. Thank you Nonnie. These SD faux fiscal conservatives don't get it. They are looking at, "what's in it for me" - too many public servants are now public parasites.
    John Kelley

  3. Don't let this practice change your perspective of teachers and administrators. Most are way underpaid for the work that they do.

  4. I'm underpaid for the work I do too for my experience and quality of work, not to brag, but it's a fact. I'm sure that most people believe the same about their jobs too. But we are just thankful to have a job in this economy and times.

    IMO administrators especially are very well paid, and teachers for the most part get paid well for nine months of work, compared to most other lines of work in SD. And please don't argue with me about only nine months of work; I know there are some other hours and other prep time involved, but it doesn't equate with people who have to work 50 to 52 weeks a year, sometimes six days a week.

  5. BTW, I do value teachers and the work they do. It's not a job that I would like or would be able to do well. I'm thankful for those who can and do. But I am tired of hearing how underpaid that profession is, that's all.

  6. Michael Black1/12/2010 3:29 PM

    Lock yourself in a room with 20-30 kids all day and then tell me how much money I'd have to give you to repeat the process tomorrow.

    Throw in politics and cranky parents.

  7. Nonnie and Michael,

    What would underpaid fundamentally mean?

    From a market prospective, no one is underpaid. Do you mean that low teacher pay would have some negative consequences? For example, do you mean that because we aren't paying teachers more fewer high achieving teachers are entering the field? Or that the education of children is being hindered because of pay?

    Can either of you find any evidence or study that shows increased teacher pay = better education? I can't, but would love to seem some quantitative evidence pointing to such an assertion.

  8. Don't forget: we're not talking about a teacher here. Administrative work is very different, especially the superintendent's position, which involves significantly less regular contact with students (although I hear Schaefer does make an effort to connect with students).

  9. Michael Black1/12/2010 7:31 PM

    Cory, the public relates the "double-dipping" of the supt. to education as a whole. They see educators as the enemy: as drains on their tax dollars. There's been a cultural shift in society. We don't believe that anyone should be paid well. It's not a crime to make a good living. We can argue that social security is just another gov't handout as well as unemployment insurance.

  10. Either allow the retire-rehire up front or not at all. What we have now is some in between thing that confuses and antagonizes everyone. Let's face it, some of the protest is just plain jealousy.... "that's not fair, I can't do that (but would if I could, etc.)".
    Once we shut off the retire/rehire in South Dakota, our most experienced teachers and administrators will just retire and leave the state. If somehow this makes us all feel better then let's hope we have sufficient numbers of qualified, competent career professionals to fill these vacancies.
    Our low teacher/administrator salaries also causes a "brain drain" with beginning and mid-career educators leaving the state to make a better living elsewhere.

  11. Tony asked me to find a study equating higher teacher pay with better education for kids. I don't believe it does actually. SD ranks lower in teacher pay, as we are consistently told, but our students rank in the top results on ACT tests. Washington DC, however, ranks highest I think in money spent on education and about lowest on quality education.

  12. Nonnie above.


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