From the outside looking in, Lamoille South school leaders appear to be in the eye of a storm as they weigh the future of superintendent Tracy Wrend.
Last week, the school board allowed more than 30 people to share their thoughts about Wrend in a series of individual two-minute closed-door sessions, as part of the board’s evaluation process.
Next week, the board could make a decision on Wrend’s contract, a decision it has already postponed in order to gauge public support for her.
Wrend has been under scrutiny for much of the dozen years she has been superintendent of the schools in Elmore, Morristown and Stowe, but that scrutiny ramped up last September when a federal jury decided she retaliated against a former Peoples Academy teacher when she fired him in 2014. The jury awarded the former teacher, David Bain, $150,000.
On the surface, there appeared to be scant support for Wrend among the dozens queuing up to go, one by one, into executive session with the board. However, one person, former Stowe School Board chair Cam Page, accused the board of kowtowing to public pressure and letting “a mob” participate in Wrend’s performance review.
School board chair David Bickford said in an email last week that the board was going to enter an executive session at the end of its Feb. 17 board meeting and “discuss the evaluative data that it has assembled,” and then take action on the superintendent’s contract.
Neither Bickford nor any other board members went into detail as to what “take action” entails — whether to offer her a new contract or terminate the current one, or something else altogether.
Under the contract:
• The board and Wrend can mutually agree to terminate the contract at any time.
• They can let the current contract run out without the board offering her a new one past June 30, 2021.
• The board can terminate the contract “for any reason or no reason.” If that’s the case, the board would have to pay Wrend the rest of her full salary within two weeks.
• Or the board can terminate the contract “for just and sufficient cause” without advance notice or pay.
Late decision by board
Turnout for the citizen evaluations at last week’s board meeting was high, especially since the invitation was a late addition to that night’s meeting agenda.
The original agenda for the Feb. 3 board meeting — submitted for publication in the newspaper on Jan. 27 — noted that the reason for the executive session that night was for the superintendent’s evaluation, but there was no mention of having the public participate.
On Jan. 30, after the paper had hit newsstands, a revised agenda was sent out, inviting the public, along with an email announcement sent to parents that same day.
That’s the day after a special school board meeting in which Wrend and Bickford — on behalf of the school board — signed a memorandum of understanding stipulating that both parties agreed to hold off a month before deciding whether to offer Wrend a new contract.
Her current contract requires the board to have notified her by Feb. 1 if it was not going to offer her “a successor” to the contract. The agreement signed by Wrend and Bickford extended that date to March 1.
Wrend’s current contract runs from July 1 of last year to June 30 of next year. Her annual salary for the current year is $149,651. The contract states her salary for the second year “shall be as mutually agreed upon” by her and the school board.
A dozen contracts
Wrend’s current contract is the 13th since she was hired as the superintendent in 2007. That year, she was given a one-year contract, and the title of “superintendent-elect,” working with a hired hand who trained her for a year. Wrend, who had previously been Lamoille South’s director of student services, was paid $90,000 for that first year.
Her first contract as a full-fledged superintendent took effect in July 2008, a one-year term that paid her a salary of $105,000. Her next two contracts were also for one year.
Wrend’s first two-year contract ran from 2011 to 2013, and has been the norm ever since, with salary increases of about $4,000 per contract.
In an era when the average tenure nationwide of a superintendent is five to six years, Wrend has more than doubled that length.
Lamoille South’s track record with superintendents is a rarity in consistency — Wrend’s predecessor, Alice Angney, was at the post for 21 years, the longest tenure of any Vermont superintendent.