Two top South Washington County school administrators resign
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. -- Two top administrators with South Washington County Schools are leaving the school system, with little public explanation.
Assistant Superintendents Keith Ryskoski and Dave Bernhardson have resigned, effective at the end of the school year. Their resignations were approved by the South Washington County School Board on Thursday and came two weeks after the superintendent’s executive assistant also resigned.
Ryskoski and Bernhardson answer directly to Superintendent Keith Jacobus, who is completing his second year as the district’s top administrator.
Neither Ryskoski nor Bernhardson would discuss the departures in detail.
“It’s time to do something different,” Ryskoski said in an interview, adding that he does not have another job lined up.
Bernhardson also said little when asked why he is leaving.
“The time has come,” he said.
Bernhardson is the assistant superintendent for elementary education and early childhood programs, among other tasks. He previously served as Woodbury Elementary School principal for seven years and was on a three-year special assignment that included leading the district’s effort to set new attendance boundaries and school start times ahead of the 2009-10 school year.
Ryskoski oversees middle schools, high schools and the South Washington Alternative High School, as well as other areas. He came to South Washington County Schools in 2010 after serving as superintendent for the Stillwater Area School District.
Both administrators earn $139,828 a year, according to the district.
Ryskoski and Bernhardson did not respond directly when asked whether Jacobus had asked them to leave.
Jacobus, too, did not directly answer when asked whether he had asked them to leave.
“I support what they’re going to do,” Jacobus said. “We wish them the best of luck.”
Jacobus said he intends to fill the two positions but might change some of the responsibilities to span the district rather than have each assistant focus on only certain aspects of the school system.
The two administrators’ resignations occurred after the school board recently approved the resignation of Mary Amidon, who served as executive assistant to Jacobus and past superintendents. She also was an assistant to the school board.
Amidon’s resignation March 6 came with a written agreement between her and the district that provides her with unspecified payments and says that she and the district “mutually desire to conclude their employment relationship in an amicable manner which ensures that no potential claims or conflicts arise.”
Amidon served as an at-will employee and earned $70,132 annually plus $5,000 for school board duties. Her resignation is effective March 31, but the agreement stipulated that she would be on leave until then and would receive pay and benefits as if she was working.
The resignation agreement also includes a “fair treatment” clause stating that she “acknowledges and affirms that the district has treated her fairly in all respects and that any statement to the contrary would be false.” She agreed not to make any false or disparaging statements about the district or its employees for two years. Violating that provision would cost her $4,000 for each violation, the agreement reads.
There was no similar resignation agreement for Ryskoski or Bernhardson.
All three resignations were approved without public comment by school board members.
However, at Thursday’s meeting, board member Jim Gelbmann tried to amend the meeting agenda to include a closed session to evaluate Jacobus’ job performance.
Nobody seconded Gelbmann’s motion, so it failed.
Gelbmann said that in light of the resignations and other district issues, he wanted the board to begin an evaluation of Jacobus that involves gathering input from a variety of district staff. That so-called “360” evaluation is planned for this summer, but Gelbmann wanted it bumped up.
“Dave and Keith are two key people, and when you lose two key people in the same night it starts to raise questions about how other people feel the superintendent is leading the district,” Gelbmann said in an interview.
An evaluation, Gelbmann added, would allow the opportunity to provide constructive feedback.
“I’m not thinking he should be replaced or that we should terminate his contract or anything,” Gelbmann said of Jacobus.
After the meeting, Jacobus said he believes he has the school board’s support. He has a three-year contract.
“I feel we have a really good board,” Jacobus said. “We definitely have differences of opinion, and I think that’s healthy for us.”