by Dennis Dalman
Dr. Joe Hill, the superintendent of the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, has resigned effective June 30, citing differences with the school board over the future of the district.
Hill had submitted a letter of resignation to the board during a special school-board meeting May 3, a meeting that was scheduled for only one agenda item: to consider Hill’s intention to resign. At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the resignation.
Hill’s short-but-candid letter states, “Through candid conversations with board leadership, I believe it is in the best interest of my convictions and the direction of the district that I step down as superintendent of the Sartell-St. Stephen School District at the end of June.”
Hill was hired by the district in 2010.
At this time, Hill said his future remains uncertain. In a statement he read to the board May 3, Hill stated, “I plan to take some time with my family to consider our next steps. I am grateful for the support and leadership of the many board members I have been privileged to serve through the past three years as together we have made significant progress in advancing the mission of the school district.”
Just last October, the school board agreed, on a 4-2 vote, to renew Hill’s contract for three years with a $154,000 per-year salary, plus benefits. That decision, however, met with controversy in the district because many thought the board was approving the contract without adequate perusal of the job Hill had done. On the very night the board approved Hill’s contract, nearly 200 people attended that board meeting, and several spoke up, saying the consideration of Hill’s contract should be delayed at least for a week or two until further study could be done. Hill had earlier received mixed reviews on a job-performance evaluation.
Complicating that controversy, at the same October meeting many people expressed dismay and even anger about the way the board was handling school issues. Many speakers said a decision to end spring break had been rushed without adequate public input, that the board had become divisive with meetings turning into squabbles and that the board had arrived at a point where it was not representing the public and conducting business without transparency. There was also an ongoing dispute about how the board was replacing members who had resigned.
Just minutes after the public input, however, the board voted to renew Hill’s contract. Those voting in favor were Greg Asfeld, Chris Gross, Gary L. Schnellert and Dan Riordan. Voting against approval were Lesa Kramer and Mary McCabe. Of last year’s school board members, only McCabe and Riordan remain on the current board. In the November election, voters elected four new members: Krista Durrwachter, Michelle Meyer, Jason Nies and Pam Raden. McCabe and Riordan are the only members still on the current board from last year.
Throughout the election campaign, the candidates who eventually won promised voters a new cooperation on the board and a renewed effort to communicate with the public it serves.
At the May 3 special meeting, the board also approved a separation agreement for Hill. The district will pay Hill’s accrued vacation days and sick days through June 30 to a maximum amount of $22,000. He will also receive six months of salary, about $77,000 and full premium payments for family health care for one year through June 2014 or until such time as Hill gets another health plan. He will also receive from the district life-insurance coverage for a year.
School Board Chair Michelle Meyer said the school board will meet soon to form a task force charged with finding a new superintendent for the district.