Of the Baker City Herald

The Baker School Board has accepted the Baker Education Associations offer to forgo pay raises this year in order to buy out the remainder of Superintendent Toni Hardmans three-year contract with the district.

The board made the announcement at about 10:30 p.m. upon returning to open session after an hour-long closed session. Hardman earns $86,000 per year. This spring, the board extended her contract to 2004.

The buyout announcement was prefaced by responses to the BEAs complaints against Hardman as published in the Baker City Herald and The Record-Courier and sent in a letter to board members earlier this month.

Those complaints and responses will be appear in the Wednesday edition of the Baker City Herald.

Before accepting the buyout, the board concluded with the statement: Toni Hardman has served in her capacity as superintendent in exemplary fashion, has been recognized statewide as an outstanding school superintendent, and has the full support of the board and management team.

The BEA made the offer because according to the association, Toni Hardmans actions are depriving Bakers students of a quality education and morale district wide is at an all time low.

The union had also issued a vote of no confidence in Hardmans leadership.

The board voted 4-0 to accept the offer. Director Dan Garrick did not attend the meeting. In its resolution accepting the buyout, the board defined salary freeze as each teacher receiving exactly the same wages as were received in 2000-2001.

Hardman will remain on the job until an interim superintendent is hired to replace her. She said she has no plans to leave Baker City. Don Ulrey, who began work July 1 as the districts curriculum and personnel director, is not interested in the position, she added.

Hardman said she was willing to step down to help improve the school climate for students.

The reason I got into education is because I love kids, she said, adding that she has enjoyed working collaboratively with other groups and agencies in the community.

It seems that the union wants to fight every single thing we want to do if its not their idea, she said. Now the attitude of the BEA is having a negative effect on the education of our kids.

Its important to me that people know this was done in spite of the fact that Im a good superintendent and I have a good reputation, she said. Im very effective in this job, but with the current climate I dont want to continue working this way.

Hardman, 55, said that she had been considering stepping down for some time. She actually made the decision a week ago Sunday when she found herself in the hospitals intensive care unit where she stayed for three days. She declined to elaborate on her health problems, except to say that she believes they are stress-related.

She added that she wouldnt have considered the buyout had her health not been an issue.

Its not worth losing my life over, she said.

John Goodyear, board chairman, added that he also was concerned for her health and voiced his support for her work.

She has been an absolutely exemplary superintendent, he said. I think this decision tonight has cost this district dearly.

I believe the personal attacks have been vicious and cruel, rude and inhumane, he added. Toni has my full support now and always and I wish her Godspeed.

Hardman added that she had received encouragement from many people in the community, but she still was disappointed in the attacks made against her.

Its disheartening to see the negative element in our town wholl go after anyone in a position of authority in the community, she said. We cant keep elevating people to positions of authority and keep tearing them down over and over again.

Judy Trohkimoinen, BEA president, said this morning that she was blindsided by the decision. She remained at the district office to hear any outcome of the closed meeting that might require action when the board returned to open session before adjourning.

There was no indication of this prior to the executive session, she said. Whatever drove the board to this resolution, it was a good decision.

She added that the associations disapproval of Hardmans performance was never meant as a personal attack.

I think I could spend time with Toni Hardman the individual and I think we could really enjoy each others company, she said. Toni the superintendent made some really poor decisions. Toni the superintendent needed to be removed from this.

Trohkimoinen said she interprets the agreement, which calls for a teachers salary freeze for the coming year, to mean that there would be no pay increase of any kind for teachers. The salary schedule has built-in advancements for each additional year of experience in the district and increases for additional educational credits earned.

A bargaining session was scheduled for 4:30 today at the district office.

As we go to bargaining tonight, clearly salary will go off the table, she said.

Teachers will be pursuing increases to the cap on insurance benefits, she added.

There are no winners here, she said of the buyout. Im sorry the situation came to this point.

She added, however, that the association will stand by its actions and she stands by her comments made in the press regarding Hardmans performance as superintendent.

It was the right thing to do, she said. It was not pleasant, but it was the right thing to do.