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School board sinks fangs

In a rare showing of administrative grit, the West Fargo School Board penalized an educator who wanted to be released from his contract.

Jason Markusen, a coordinator and teacher of the alternative education program at Cheney Middle School, was issued a 1.5 percent penalty for liquidated damages. West Fargo Public Schools Human Resources Director Robin Hill said the board could issue anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent in damages, which translated to a range of $468 to $2,300.

The last time the school board issued liquidated damages was approximately 10 years ago, Hill said, when a staff member left the school and the field of education in order to pursue a career in marketing.

On Monday, the board decided that since the school year already had begun, and because Markusen's contract became effective Aug. 26, a penalty was necessary to show contracts were a binding agreement that "goes both ways," Superintendent Dr. David Flowers said.

"We have to be consistent," he said. "It is a contract, after all."

Other options for the board included full release from the contract, holding Markusen to his contract, or keeping Markusen in place until a suitable replacement was found. Cheney Middle School principal Don Lennon said a replacement already was in place, and had been since Markusen went on his honeymoon after the first week of school.

It was a smooth transition, and "appears as if things are going well," Lennon said.

The measure passed with a 4-2 vote. Patti Stedman and board president Karen Nitzkorski voted against the measure. Board member Angela Korsmo was not in attendance.

"Our role is to do what is best for our students," board member Kay Kiefer said. "If there are no teeth in a contract, then what is it good for?"

The board decided on a 1.5 percent penalty over a stiffer punishment partly because of Markusen's reason behind leaving. During his six years in the district, Markusen had "applied and interviewed for every available administrative job West Fargo has had to offer," he wrote in a letter to the board.

"It's been a week ... if it was one, two, three months, it would have been a lot different," Stedman said.

Markusen never was chosen for the positions, Hill said, so when he was approached by a Minnesota School District offering an assistant principalship, he took the job.

West Fargo Education Association Director Joan Connor argued that Markusen should not be penalized because he was trying to "better himself" in the field of education.

"What I've read in his letter, is he hopes to come back to West Fargo, and has nothing but positive things to say about the district," she said.

Stedman reminded the board that they never have issued liquidated damages for relocation issues. Hill also noted that this was a unique situation, because in some past instances of contract releases, contract negotiations were not finalized.

Harwood to get WAN cables

In a long-awaited move by the school board, Harwood Elementary School will be brought up to speed with the rest of the district.

On Monday, the board voted unanimously to award the base bid of $46,500 to IdeaOne Telecom, in order to install Wide Area Network connections between Harwood and the West Fargo High School.

Nitzkorski noted that there was wide applause during a recent Harwood Elementary Parent Teacher Organization meeting when news of the WAN connections was brought up.

The term of agreement expires June 30, 2013, at which time a bid for the renewal of the contract will be issued.

No school budget revision was necessary for the bid, Business Manager Mark Lemer said.