BY JIM BOYLE
The Elk River Area School Board approved a three-year contract extension for Superintendent Mark Bezek Wednesday night on a 5-1 vote.
"This keeps a strong leader in an important position," School Board Chairwoman Jolene Jorgensen said. "He has support and has shown the skills to do the job with the (development and implementation of the first) strategic plan."
Jane Bunting cast the ‘no’ vote.
The School Board also approved at the same meeting its next strategic plan. (More on that in a future edition.)
The contract was crafted over a nine-month period with the help of consultant Kenneth LaCroix. For more on the contract, see next week’s Star News.
Vice-chairwoman Jane Bunting cast the lone "no" vote, stating her decision to vote against the contract did not have anything to do with the contract itself. She was one of seven board members who supported the pact at an earlier board meeting. She said her concerns were ethical in nature.
She prefaced her remarks asking if the School Board could go into a closed session to discuss the matter, but once she was informed that would be inappropriate she proceeded to share her concerns. She said her opposition stemmed from a concern that a member of the negotiating team was "best friends" with the superintendent.
It was LaCroix and a three-member executive team headed by Sue Farber (last year’s board chair), Jorgensen and Holly Thompson that negotiated the contract, working hand in hand with the full School Board.
"I wouldn’t want Randy Anderson (the district’s executive director for business services) to negotiate a contract with a friend on behalf of the school district," Bunting stated.
Although Bunting did not say any names, School Board Director Farber took offense to Bunting’s comments. "My integrity is being challenged," Farber said.
In an interview with the Star News, Farber said she was blind-sided by what she termed "accusations." Farber said she did chair the committee that negotiated the contract, and that as board chair last year that was her job.
"I am proud of the process that we used," she said, noting that the full board was appraised of "everything" after each meeting. LaCroix served as a liaison between the three-member team and Bezek.
"Never once did anybody say my thinking was clouded because of a friendship," Farber said.
Bunting went to Jorgensen with the concern before the meeting.
"I don’t know why she had such an issue or why she singled out Sue," Jorgensen said. "It’s a fine line between what a friend (and colleague) is and whether we can be friends or not. We’re all friends with one another to a differing degree.
"Sue and Mark have worked together the most and they have gone through big crises together. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their relationship."
Bunting said friendship colors things, creating conflicts of interest and hampering a person’s ability to remain objective. She also alluded the to recent scandal at Best Buy.
"This is not personal," she told the Star News. "It’s just about ethics."
Farber said she has prided herself on her objectivity. "To compare my relationship with Mark and the writing of this contract to that of what happened is nothing short of libelous and slanderous."