Bettendorf Superintendent Mike Raso’s job was retained, at least for now, following the anticlimactic failure of a motion for lack of a second at its last school board meeting. Director Stacey Struck said the failed motion “isn’t the end of things.”
So what happens next?
According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, there’s a process to follow for non-probationary superintendents, like Raso. Probationary superintendents in the first three years of employment in a school district do not have the same protections.
First, the board must make sure there is documentation to support the termination of a contract, including evaluations. This school year, the board has had six closed meetings to discuss superintendent evaluations, on the following dates: Nov. 5, Nov. 19, Dec. 17, Feb. 19, May 6 and May 14, just before the failed vote. According to board minutes, more than 400 minutes — nearly seven hours — were spent in closed session to evaluate Raso’s performance across all six meetings. The three most recent meetings clocked in under 45 minutes, each.
Superintendent evaluations can occur in closed session under Iowa Code section 21.5, “for the purpose of evaluating the professional competency of individuals whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge are being considered, when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to those individuals reputations and those individuals request a closed session.”
At this point, the board considering superintendent termination measures should consult with the district’s attorney, according to the IASB guidelines.
The board has a number of options prior to taking action to deliver a notice of consideration of termination: reach an agreement with the superintendent to modify or terminate the contract, issue a one-year nonrenewable contract or start the contract termination process.
As of Wednesday, Raso’s contract still extends through June 30, 2020. In March, the board unanimously voted to stop the contract from automatically renewing until June 30, 2021. At the time, President Adam Holland said the board wanted to keep its “options open.”
The notice of consideration of termination must be received by the superintendent by May 15. With the Bettendorf board’s failure to pass the measure to consider termination Tuesday night, they’ve missed the deadline for this contract year. At the earliest, the board could reconsider the motion starting July 1, the beginning of the next contract year.
If the board had seconded the motion and the vote to issue a notice to Raso had failed, it would not have legally prevented the board from reconsidering at a later date.
“We are not aware of any basis in the law to stop a motion from being brought up again,” said Tammy Votava, communications director for IASB. “However, parliamentary procedures strive to handle meetings in an orderly and organized fashion, and would dissuade this practice.”
If the vote had passed — or if it passes in the future — the superintendent could either do nothing, at which point the board would vote to terminate, suspend or retain the superintendent by May 31 of that contract year, or the superintendent has five days to request a hearing in writing to the board secretary. The hearing would have to be held between 20 and 40 days after the request is submitted.
If the superintendent requests a hearing, the board notifies the Board of Educational Examiners, who submits a list of qualified administrative law judges, and the parties select one. At the private hearing, either party call call witnesses, and a transcript or recording shall be made of the hearing. Within 10 days, the administrative law judge writes a proposed decision; the decision becomes final after 30 days if the superintendent does not appeal or the school board does not make a motion to review the proposed decision.
If either the superintendent appeals or the board motions to review, a second private hearing will be held, and the board has five days to write a final decision. Once again, the board can vote to terminate the contract, suspend the superintendent, issue a one-year nonrenewable contract or retain the superintendent. The superintendent can either accept the board decision, or appeal the ruling to district court within 30 days, in which case the process continues with support of legal counsel.