Carson City School District administration building.
The Carson City School District Board of Trustees voted to deny the terms of a proposed superintendent contract with New Hampshire candidate John Goldhardt on Tuesday with a directive for board President Richard Varner to return to him with the original proposal.
Tuesday, Varner explained last month he was tasked with entering into negotiations with Goldhardt. He presented an initial proposal based on language from Superintendent Richard Stokes’ current contract. Varner offered Goldhardt a one-year term and a salary of $170,000 with benefits to begin, stating Goldhardt currently makes $180,000 in Manchester, N.H., but pays into state retirement and Carson City School District pays the full amount of Public Employees’ Retirement System benefits for employees and there is no state income tax, Varner said.
Tuesday’s discussion branched out into questions about Goldhardt’s changes and whether the board and its hiring firm, the Nevada Association of School Boards, had done enough vetting on the candidate.
Trustee Laurel Crossman observed any changes Goldhardt made likely were attempts to protect himself from a former employment situation that did not end well. Goldhardt resigned from his superintendent position in Manchester as of Feb. 11, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, and will remain an employee there through June 30.
“I feel as board members here, we also have an obligation here to protect the district and to protect our staff and our students,” Crossman said. “All of our funds we have, we are looking at having a $3.3 million reduction in revenues, so when we look at what we are having to cut, to cover Dr. Goldhardt’s proposal … is evidence of a ‘me first’ attitude and not a ‘kids first’ attitude, and that has me concerned.”
Goldhardt’s changes to the contract included an increase to his salary to $175,000 and to extend his term to two years to June 30, 2024, with the board to provide at least six months’ notice if they do not intend to renew the contract. The contract could be extended upon mutual agreement of both parties. Goldhardt would be required to notify the board in no less than 60 days before the initial term of the contract of his wish to extend the term or allow the same to expire.
He also asked for the district to pay for his relocation expenses, offering to obtain three bids from local moving companies and choose the most reasonable bid. Should he leave the district before June 30, 2024, he would agree to reimbursing the school district for these costs on a percentage basis, and he requested the board’s support for professional learning opportunities.
Varner said in the district’s application, there was no mention of a commitment to covering relocation fees, with Trustee Mike Walker saying during the interview process, Goldhardt had expressed he already planned to move out west to be closer to family. They also felt this was a personal decision for which he should bear the full brunt of the costs.
Goldhardt also offered to submit a comprehensive entry plan as he transitions into the position, recommending that he meet with Carson City School District’s board members individually, Superintendent Richard Stokes, school principals and key community leaders such as the sheriff and fire chief. But traveling prior to the start date to meet with the community raised financial concerns. Varner said it cost $1,200 for the two days of interviews in February, which means an estimate of about $2,000 to $3,000 for about a week, and Walker said he found that problematic.
Walker, principal of Sutro Elementary School in Dayton, expressed concerns about maintaining the culture of the district.
“I’m going to be hiring a lot of teachers … and I know Washoe County is going to have a lot of jobs,” he said. “We have to support our employees. We have to make sure we look them in the face and say we did this in good faith.”
Trustee Lupe Ramirez agreed a one-year contract was in the district’s best interest but was dissuaded on certain other expenses Goldhardt proposed.
“He seemed fully committed in this opportunity to be a part of our district,” she said. “I’m confident that it is his desire and that he’s going to excel. … I agree and don’t feel we need to pay for his expenses.”
But as the discussion continued, the board decided it was becoming “adversarial” in its approach over the contract. Walker said he felt the board was about to make a mistake if it approved the document with Goldhardt’s requests.
“We don’t have adversarial relations about any of our groups,” Walker said. “We work well together, we all tighten our belts. When I read through this, I didn’t get the sense that we were putting students first.”
Crossman also felt certain issues came to light with Goldhardt’s candidacy during the consideration of his contract and that he was not fully vetted by NASB during the search process. She referred to a Dec. 26, 2021, story published by the Union Leader only recently brought to the board’s attention addressing a public apology Goldhardt made to a teacher in Manchester for asserting an e-mail she sent school board members and city aldermen with concerns about poor work conditions had been politically motivated.
Public comment provided on the matter indicated the board remains in negotiations with the candidate to start, with some continuing to support Goldhardt and others expressing similar concerns the board expressed about Goldhardt’s counterproposals.
“We looked at his resume, we listened to his interview and, from his history on his resume and his past qualifications … and we widely supported him … and I understand you have to protect the district, I get that, but you haven’t given this man a chance,” resident Maxine Bradshaw said. “You’ve already drawn and quartered this guy and he isn’t even here.”
Former school board trustee Ron Swirczek agreed with the motion to deny the contract.
“When I read this proposal of another educator, the first thing I thought about was did he look at the financial condition of the Carson City School District, number one?” Swirczek said. “Does he really care about kids? And that’s why I would agree to deny the contract as proposed and send back what was originally proposed and go from there.”
Empire Elementary School office manager Mary Foster, an 11-year worker in the district, said she was “outraged” hearing of Goldhardt’s increased salary, moving expense and possible severance package proposals.
“I and all of us here in the U.S. are facing 7% inflation and the possibility of little, if no, wage increase this coming year and the thought of possible rifts in staff due to budget deficits are another thing to think about,” Foster said. “How could you possibly approve the expenses he is requesting?”
The motion, which underwent several revisions, was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Trustee Don Carine opposing.