In a surprising turn of events, West Fargo School Board President Duane Hanson withdrew his recommendation to have Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace's contract unrenewed for the 2008-09 school year. His announcement came at the end of an hour-and-a-half long special meeting held on Tuesday night in a packed Boardroom overflowing with concerned teachers, administrators, students and parents.
Hanson had opened the meeting by setting ground rules, saying that there would be no solicited comments from people in the audience. All Board members were present, with the exception of Troy Aswege, who was out of town, but participated by speaker phone. Jon Arntson, the District's attorney, was also present in a consultation capacity.
"There is no wrongdoing here," Hanson stated, adding that the problems arose more from a difference in philosophies. "We need a leader who will take time to build relationships," Hanson said. He cited Wallace for being abrasive and divisive in her leadership approach. Hanson said there had been a 50/50 split in reactions from people calling and emailing him in the past few days. He did not divulge the nature of the complaints or comments.
Wallace has been criticized for bringing rapid change to the District without allowing enough time for staff members to buy-in to the new programs.
Joan Baltezore, president of the West Fargo Education Association, had approached the Board at their regular Board meeting last Monday night with a list of concerns about the District from staff members. She said that staff morale is at an all-time low, citing the implementation of block scheduling and MAP testing, along with inadequate communication explaining the changes as main concerns. Hanson assured the Board that the timing of WFEA's presentation was coincidental.
Other circumstances surrounding the timing of the meeting included a letter of resignation from the District's business manager, Mark Lemer. His letter was listed as part of Monday night's consent agenda. However, Hanson requested that the item be held until the April 28 regular Board meeting. No reasons for Lemer's decision were disclosed.
In a statement to the Board, Wallace said she was stunned when she got a phone call from Hanson on Monday morning informing her that he would be calling the non-renewal meeting. "I was unaware of any discussion of terminating my position until yesterday morning," Wallace said.
"Maybe the Board has sent the administration mixed messages," Board member Susan Bailey said, getting a similar response from Tom Gentzkow.
"I agree with that. We were going to confront the situation and we didn't do it. Now we're in the bottom of the ninth inning, and it's a hot issue. Why wasn't it six months ago?" Gentzkow asked.
On speaker phone, Troy Aswege asked the Board, "Should we just terminate, or should we do an improvement plan? Yes, she's [Wallace] made mistakes. How many others have made mistakes?"
"How she represents the District is one of my concerns," longtime Board member, Angela Korsmo said.
After listening to mixed comments from the Board members, Hanson announced that he was withdrawing his recommendation for Wallace's non-renewal.
Speaking to the press immediately following the meeting, Baltezore said she hoped the District will be able to move in a positive direction, "I know it was a difficult decision for the School Board to make."
Hanson and Wallace were not available for comment.