Parents and teachers of a tiny school district say this week’s decision to reinstate its superintendent from paid leave does little to answer questions or ease the turmoil they’ve faced this year.
The West Metro Education Program board voted just before midnight Wednesday and without explanation to reinstate Daniel Jett after a closed session.
The board placed him on paid leave in January to investigate unspecified allegations.
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 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.
The board also will negotiate contract terms with Antoinette Johns, the former Brooklyn Center superintendent who filled Jett’s seat since Feb. 4. She’ll work slightly less than halftime, said the board’s chair, Helen Bassett.
The West Metro district is a combination of Minneapolis and 10 suburban districts that operates schools in downtown Minneapolis and Crystal. Its purpose is to better promote integration of metro-area students.
The board informed Jett that he was being put on paid leave from a job that pays almost $165,000 annually at the same late January meeting where 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. Neither Jett nor Bennett responded to requests for comment.
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?”
“We’re hanging in limbo,” said Bethany Brunsell, an orchestra teacher who leads the district’s teacher union unit, before the Jett decision was announced. She said negotiations on a teacher contract, which expires June 30, were delayed by the uncertainty.
The board has incurred more than $29,500 to investigate and pay lawyers in connection with the Bennett and Jett matters. In addition, it has committed an extra $57,000 atop Jett’s salary to pay Johns as his sub, and also will be paying her for associate duties.
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.