The board of a west metro integration school district voted late Wednesday to summon back its superintendent from the paid leave it put him on in January to investigate unspecified allegations.
The West Metro Education Program board voted just before midnight and without explanation to reinstate Daniel Jett after meeting in a closed session. But it also voted to bolster its administrative ranks by retaining part time the woman who has subbed as district chief since Feb. 4.
The board’s move punctuates but does not totally end the intrigue that has engulfed the district’s leadership for four and a half months. The allegations against Jett were raised by Kevin Bennett, principal of the small district’s two schools, according to Bennett’s lawyer. Now they’ll be forced to work together.
The board’s action brings Jett back to work effective Monday. It will also negotiate contract terms with Antoinette Johns, the former Brooklyn Center superintendent who filled Jett’s seat. She’ll work slightly less than half time, said the board’s Chair, Helen Bassett.
The west metro district is a combine of Minneapolis and 10 suburban districts that operates schools in downtown Minneapolis and Crystal. The purpose was to better promote integration of metro-area students.
The board informed Jett that he was being put on leave from a job that pays almost $165,000 annually at the same late January meeting that it imposed a two-day suspension on Bennett and accepted the resignation of a female teacher to whom he had been linked. Bennett was suspended for infractions involving relations with staffers.
The board now faces the ticklish situation of explaining to parents and staff why it has spent almost $90,000 in investigative costs while school staff is shrinking and some parents decry arts funding cuts. It must do so while hewing to state law that restricts what it may legally say about an investigation of Jett because no discipline was announced.
“The families are frustrated because there’s no communication,” parent Kathy Rappos said. “Is the board accountable?” Bassett said the board hasn’t had time yet to draft a statement to the school on the latest development.
“We’re hanging in limbo,” said Bethany Brunsell, an orchestra teacher who heads the school’s teacher union unit, before the Jett decision was announced. She said talks were delayed on negotiating a new contract with the current deal expiring June 30.
The board has incurred more than $29,500 to investigate and pay lawyers in connection with the Bennett and Jett matters. In addition, it will spend an extra $57,000 atop Jett’s salary to pay Johns as his sub.
The episode isn’t over. Bennett’s principal license expires June 30, and its renewal has been delayed by the referral of Bennett’s suspension to the state Board of School Administrators as a potential ethics violation. The board has not acted on the matter, and isn’t scheduled to meet again until August.
A license is needed for a principal to expel or suspend students or to supervise and evaluate teachers, according to Stan Mack II, a former staff director for the board. Bassett said the district has an assistant principal with the proper license to step in if needed.