Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



The Baker School Board, in a split vote Tuesday, added one year to Superintendent Walt Wegener's contract, extending the deal to June 30, 2015.

The board lengthened Wegener's current contract, which had two years remaining, after reviewing a performance evaluation prepared by Board Chair Lynne Burroughs and director Mark Henderson, who commended Wegener for going "beyond our expectations" to accomplish the goals set for him.

Burroughs, Henderson and director Andrew Bryan voted to approve the evaluation and to add the additional year to Wegener's contract.

Salary was not discussed.

Wegener is earning $102,527 this year.

Director Kyle Knight voted against the motion to approve the evaluation and to extend the superintendent's contract.

Knight declined to speak during the executive (closed to the public) portion of Tuesday's meeting, during which the board reviewed the evaluation Burroughs and Henderson wrote.

During the subsequent public portion of the meeting, Burroughs did not allow Knight to discuss Wegener's evaluation or explain why he voted not to extend the superintendent's contract.

Director Jim Longwell abstained from voting, saying he did not have enough information about the evaluation.

"That was all done - I'd never seen it," Longwell said, referring to the report prepared by Burroughs and Henderson. "I had three or four minutes to look at it.

"I'll go home and read it and I might be able to come to an opinion on it," Longwell said.

Knight was censured by the board in April for releasing information that Burroughs, Henderson and Bryan, along with district administrators, believe should have been kept confidential. A group of community residents is seeking to recall Burroughs and Henderson as a result of that action. Bryan is not part of the recall effort.

Knight said after the meeting that he chose not to speak in the closed session because he wanted to be able to express his opinion on the issue without being bound by the Oregon Public Meetings Law requirement not to disclose information discussed in executive session.

"I've come to the conclusion that new leadership is needed and a new superintendent is needed," he said.

Knight claims the superintendent has made comments to him, that he considers "highly inappropriate."

"He needs to understand that he can't disrespect board members," Knight said.

Burroughs said after the meeting that the executive session was called to allow Knight and the other board members to review the evaluation she and Henderson had prepared and then to add their comments. The closed meeting afforded other directors an opportunity to add their opinions in a candid discussion about the superintendent.

Burroughs said she was advised by Dan Van Thiel, the district's legal counsel, to cancel Tuesday's meeting because of concern about Knight's attendance at a meeting in which confidential information would be discussed.

Burroughs said she chose to go ahead with the meeting because it had been advertised to the public.

Burroughs said she and Henderson followed the model established by prior boards that called for the board chair and one other director to compile a preliminary evaluation. From there, the process was intended to continue in the closed session before moving to an open session to take action, she said.

Burroughs said she was sorry that Longwell felt that he was not given enough time to review the paperwork before the vote was taken.

"It was a document of four pages," she said. "They were there way before (the vote was taken)."

Burroughs said it didn't appear that Knight looked at the documents before stating that he could not support it.

During the meeting, Van Thiel advised the board that if it continues to meet in executive session, directors should avoid discussing details of topics allowed in the closed session such as personnel issues, real estate transactions and labor negotiations.

He recommended instead that the directors meet individually with the administrators in "sidebar" sessions.

Van Thiel said that process would call for directors to meet one-on-one with Wegener or Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer, to discuss confidential issues. Dalton chose to exercise that option during Tuesday's meeting rather than discussing labor negotiations in the closed session as was announced on the agenda.

Dalton said he would follow Van Thiel's recommendation to schedule sidebar sessions with the directors to seek consensus on a proposed contract settlement with the district's classified employees, who include secretaries, bus drivers, cooks and other nonlicensed workers.

If consensus is reached among directors, the full board would take action on the contract agreement and any other items discussed in sidebar sessions during a public meeting, Van Thiel said.

Burroughs said Knight would be included in the sidebar sessions if he agrees to keep information confidential.

"Kyle can participate if it's not material he will go shrieking to Lars Larson with," she said.

"I would prefer having executive sessions and having the press there," Burroughs said. "But it's not working and we need to try something else."

Burroughs said she will not allow board members or community members to criticize district employees during open meetings. Those complaints should be taken first to district administrators, she said.

"If it's about the superintendent, they ought to talk to me," she said. "Call me on the phone. I'm in the book."

She said Tuesday's closed session was the place for Knight to express any complaints he has against Wegener.

"I'm not going to get into a public session where that goes on," she said. "I don't have to allow it and I didn't."

Knight also maintains that he would prefer executive session meetings to discuss confidential information, when necessary.

"My conclusion on that is they're going underground," he said. "Instead of having executive session, we're having secret meetings."