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Michael Johndrow

What the SW Board Has
To Say About Johndrow

By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE —March 04, 2003– Board members expressed surprise and dismay that word was leaked last week that Sullivan West Superintendent Michael Johndrow’s contract will likely not be renewed, but even though the informal board vote happened during a private executive session after the February 20 board meeting, several board members – in recent interviews with the Democrat – expressed their opinions of Johndrow, his performance and why or why not they gave him a three percent raise the very same night.
According to board members and other sources, the unofficial vote on February 20 to not extend Johndrow’s contract past June 2004 was 6-2, with Board President Jeff Nober, Vice President Jerry Triolo, Carol Nearing, Bill Erdman, Tim Lanese and Arthur Norden in favor, and Rich Sandler and K.C. Garn opposed. Rick Lander was absent.
“Things have not gotten to where they should be,” said Nober last week. “If we had to do it over again, I’d hire somebody with no local ties and 10 or 15 years of experience [as a superintendent]. That’s what we need now.”
But Nober was one of six board members to publicly vote for Johndrow’s $3,090 raise, which brought the superintendent’s annual salary to $106,090.
Nober was joined in the affirmative vote by Triolo, Nearing, Lanese, Sandler and Garn. Erdman and Norden voted against the raise.
“He deserved a raise. The man hasn’t had a raise in more than a year,” said Nober, adding that a raise was due Johndrow in July but was postponed until the board could adequately discuss it.
Nober steered clear of being harsh on Johndrow, saying he recognized the difficulties of overseeing a newly merged district comprised of three formerly independent schools.
“I don’t think anyone could have done the job perfectly and satisfied nine people,” he said, speaking of the nine-member board.
Triolo was similarly circumspect.
“I really was not that happy with his performance. I felt we needed someone new at the helm,” he said, then later stated, “He’s a lame duck, but Mike’s of good character – he’s not going to do anything to harm the district.”
Triolo confirmed Nober’s statement that a raise was supposed to be considered last year but was postponed until the board could discuss it.
Triolo said he was “reluctantly” in favor of the raise at that time, although he said Johndrow “thought it should be brought to a higher amount. He felt he was one of the lower-paid superintendents in the county.”
Three percent, however, was where the raise remained.
“Even though I’m not totally satisfied with his performance, the man deserves at least a cost-of-living increase,” he added.
Norden, long an outspoken critic of various issues at Sullivan West, did not think Johndrow deserved either a raise or an extension of his contract.
Citing “the very, very poor financial management of the district,” Norden said Johndrow was more responsible than even the business manager for the “numerous mistakes” he feels plague Sullivan West.
“Certainly the business manager [Keith Menges] has to take the responsibility for a lot of this, . . . [but] the business manager doesn’t report to the board,” he said. “The superintendent is the chief executive officer.
“If you look at where the three former districts were four years ago . . . you can only say the implementation of the merger was a failure,” he continued. “But volume covers a multitude of sins.”
And due to his belief that Johndrow mishandled the district (and that he feels the raise issue was already addressed in Johndrow’s current contract), Norden voted against the raise.
“I chose to give him nothing,” he said matter-of-factly. “You don’t summarily give a cost-of-living increase.”
Norden said there’s “nothing left” of the finances, academics and long-term planning of the school. He claimed the high school project is $700,000 over budget and a year behind schedule. (Turner Construction Company officials, on the other hand, have said everything’s on track and the building will be handed over to the district by July of this year.)
“We need to bring someone in who has been there, done that and likes doing that – people who are less career-minded and more into education,” he said. “We cannot be hiring people for whom it’s just a step up in their career. We need people who wouldn’t mind spending the rest of their lives as a principal or a guidance counselor.”
Norden added that such a standard should apply to the entire staff, not just the superintendent and his administration.
“It was not my intention when I got on this board to get rid of Mike Johndrow,” he said, adding that his focus is on the finances and academics.
Lander, for one, doesn’t believe Norden and feels he’s been ramrodding an anti-merger agenda for years.
“Part of Arthur has a vendetta against this whole situation,” he said. “He wasn’t for the merger from the start.
“I think we’ve come a long ways in the merged district, and Mike has done a very good job,” he added.
Lander credited Johndrow with helping coalesce the teaching staff of the three campuses and overseeing the high school project. He feels the six board members who voted against extending Johndrow’s contract are not viewing the situation objectively.
“Part of their problems with Johndrow are personal,” he said. “They wanted to put their people in, and I’m not just talking about [High School Principal] Margie [Tenbus].”
Lander was referring to the 2001 board vote to make Tenbus the Lake Huntington high school principal, against the recommendations of Johndrow and then-Assistant Superintendent David Rowley. The 5-4 vote featured Lander, Sandler, Garn and former board member Donna Sauer-Jones against Tenbus, while Nober, Triolo, Nearing, Lanese and Erdman were for the transfer.
The matter swirled in part around a prior drunk driving conviction of Tenbus’.
In the wake of that contentious decision, Rowley announced he was searching for another job, Head Guidance Counselor Regina Wagner resigned, and 300 people showed up at a board meeting to air their views.
Although Rowley and former Business Manager Betsy McKean ultimately said their departures were not related to the Tenbus decision, Lander thinks there’s a connection.
“They [the five board members] have chopped everyone away from him [Johndrow],” said Lander. “I don’t know who they’re going to blame after he’s gone.”
Lander wasn’t present for the board meeting on the 20th, but he said if he had been there, he would have first stated that Johndrow had not asked for an extension – and then voted with Sandler and Garn, who are “reasonable people.”
“Mike has done an exceptionally good job. Every activity I go to, he’s there,” he said, adding that his departure will be a substantial loss to the district that will hurt the board’s relations with the public. “I don’t think they [the six who voted against Johndrow’s extension] have given him a good evaluation.”
Sandler, while agreeing with Lander that Johndrow is a good superintendent, feels the entire board voted its conscience.
“Every member of the board has the kids and the taxpayers at heart,” he explained, saying he does not believe there is turmoil or grudges amongst board members. “Hopefully, we’ll hire someone who has the full confidence of the board.”
Sandler was a member of the old Delaware Valley board in Callicoon when they hired newcomer Johndrow in 1998. Johndrow eventually was picked over Jeffersonville Superintendent Jack Jordan for the new Sullivan West’s top position – another sore spot at the time.
For now, Sandler wishes Johndrow well, saying he has no worries that Johndrow will easily find another superintendency.
“He’s done an excellent job, and he’s an excellent superintendent,” said Sandler. “I’m satisfied with his performance.”
Nearing and Erdman declined to comment, unsure of the legality of disclosing actions they took in executive session.
Garn did not return two calls for comment.
And Johndrow himself, when told of board members’ remarks, opted not to say anything either.
As for the future, there’s a new interim assistant superintendent, Charlotte Gregory, who could be tapped to serve as interim superintendent if Johndrow leaves before her March-to-December tenure is up.
BOCES District Superintendent Martin Handler said that he’ll help the board in any search process if they request him to. However, he cautioned all to remember that Johndrow’s contract is not up until June of 2004, and anything could happen between now and then.
“I think this is unfortunate,” he said, “but I think there’s a lot of speculation that is premature.”

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