Special to The Gardner News
School board members voted 6-0 in favor of a separation agreement with Superintendent Pam Stranahan after hours in executive session at their Dec. 7 meeting.
Fifty some parents gathered outside the district building protesting and holding signs stating they were against a “Golden Parachute.”
A golden parachute is an agreement between an employer and an employee that they will continue to receive certain benefits if they are terminated. It is a severance package also commonly known as a golden handshake.
Sennator Molly Baumgardner, Kansas Senator, addressed board members during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Baumgardner said she didn’t think it was right to have a Golden parachute for a school superintendent to be negotiated in an executive session.
“Why not use the money to hire more teachers,” she said. “Don’t pay off the superintendent because you’re unwilling to help the future.”
Baumgardner said she wasn’t happy to hear rumblings and testimonies last week about the number of students who had left the district and low math test scores, specifically drops in state assessment scores for 10th grade students.
“I take the loss of hundreds of students last year very seriously, especially 280 in Gardner-Edgerton is very troubling,” she said.
Baumgardner said 50 percent of 10th graders are below grade level.
“This is not good for students and this isn’t enough for the future in Kansas,” she said.
Baumgardner said parent partnerships with boards help improve lives for students.
“They can advise but some in the area won’t listen,” she said.
Baumgardner said she also didn’t appreciate parents and children having to stand outside the building at board meetings. “There is space to hold meetings and not have parents and kids outside in 30 degrees,” she said.
Rob Shippy, board president, said he wanted to ask Baumgardner about texts he had received from her husband that said he can save him but not Superintendent Pam Stranahan.
“I can’t speak for my husband,” she said. “I am here for Molly.”
Shippy said Baumgardner’s husband had texted him on the eve of Election Day to withdraw from the election. Shippy unsuccessfully ran another term on the board in the last election.
Baumgardner’s public comment time ended, and they didn’t continue their conversation.
Greg Chapman, resident, said he asked the board to not make decisions at the meeting stating it would negatively impact the students, administrators and teachers.
“Now is the time for the community to heal not be divided,” he said.
Chapman said with a board member on their way out it makes the Golden parachute as a last act crippling for the community. Chapman was elected board member and takes seat in January.
Chapman said he also had an issue with an email from the Gardner-Edgerton High School principal he had received in reference to a possible threat to the school.
“You should let the public know and reassure them,” he said. “People are nervous.”
Nick Robinson, resident, said a battle had been waged and won for the side of personal choice and transparency.
“Many of you in this room lost sight and followed Pam blindly,” he said.
Robinson said newly elected board members showed grit and willingness to fight for parents.
“You can’t ignore the concerns of people when it comes to their children,” he said. “It doesn’t stop after an election.”
Jeff Miller, newly elected board member, said he had heard many rumors of mass firings in the district and was now upset about the Golden parachute rumors with no facts, failed leadership and falling test scores.
“Remember it is all about the kids,” he said.
Miller said no one from the board had reached out to him, and he hadn’t received the opportunity to speak with Stranahan personally.
“Do not push the decisions to the newly elected board and tie the hands of the new board,” he said.
Miller said they were taking away money from students, teachers, the SPED program and more.
“We have lost a lot of good teachers and administrators under this leadership,” he said. “You must not reward failure. Do the right thing.”
Three other public speakers addressed board members wanting to show their gratitude and support for their work.
Emma Jones, Edgerton resident, said she was alarmed at the hatefulness of the addressees and domestic terrorism by misinformation and ignorance.
“There is way more open hostility,” she said.
Jones said she hoped they continued to show up for the children.
“I am not the only parent to see your efforts,” she said. “Thank you for your service to the children.”
Casey Williams, parent and resident, said he was tired of hearing the same arguments every month.
“The fake outrage and info,” he said. “It’s the same topic, and people were given choices and they’re still not happy.”
Williams said the anger was holding the district back from doing more important things.
“We are ready to move forward,” he said. “The new board members are only fanning the flames of fear-mongering.”
Stacey Coleman, parent, said everyone had been through a lot.
“I can’t imagine a more difficult time to be on a board than any other time,” she said.
Coleman said she wanted to thank board members for their hard work, protecting children and putting the district teachers and staff first over the cost of their board seats.
“I am deeply concerned the new board is opening themselves to lawsuits,” she said.
Coleman said they should save their money for the lawsuits they are going to lose, and she was concerned about the lack of will, strength and judgement of the ill informed minority.
“Parents believe in science,” she said. “Thank you for basing decisions on facts, reason and science and not letting fear and politics cloud judgement.”
Coleman said she too was concerned about recent rumors about a threat to the high school.
“I didn’t appreciate learning the pep rally was rescheduled because of a threat,” she said. “Our kids are scared, and every kid they know is bragging about their easy access to guns.”
Coleman’ said they need to keep parents informed about threats.
“And to those staying thank you,” she said. “I support your efforts to protect things legal, but you will lose as a district.”