For the past two weeks, a contract extending Dr. Dennis Carpenter’s tenure as Lee’s Summit R-7 Superintendent has been bouncing around between himself and the board of education.
What was passed by a 5-2 vote March 14 wasn’t official until the district released details of Carpenter’s contract extension just this past week.
The lapse in time, seemingly, had to had to do with a combination of spring break, vacations and likely some legal counseling.
Ultimately, though, board president Phyllis Balagna, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter and board secretary Linda Ismert all signed on the dotted line on March 25, a few days before it was released to the public for consumption.
It’s safe to say fanfare out of the Stansberry Leadership Center most certainly did not accompany this contract extension, either.
District officials haven’t been shy to engage certain media outlets on certain messages. In this case, for better or worse, what is most certainly the hottest topic in school district circles — the “will they or won’t they renew his contract” dramatic mini-series that has played out for weeks and months in Lee’s Summit — garnered a headline on the weekly district e-mail update and was reportedly somewhat buried in the e-mail teachers and staff received.
The announcement included no details on the extension and no comments from the board or Carpenter and gave no indication on job performance.
What does that tell us?
Surely Dr. Carpenter was seeking a three-year extension to his contract. That might be a leap on my part, but my assumption is that for the sake of his family and the district, he would have wanted a longer deal. What he got (and signed) was an extension that takes him to July of 2021. His original contract wasn’t set to expire until July of 2020.
What does the one-year term instead of another three-year contract mean?
I am leaving many of these questions open-ended because, obviously, none of us are in that back room with the school board during those closed sessions. What compelled the board to offer an extension of Carpenter’s contract for just one year and what measuring metrics will be used to analyze his performance for the remainder of the contract?
Here are a few things we do know: two board members voted against the contract extension. According to an e-mail from Ismert, both Julie Doane and Kim Fritchie gave the agreement a thumbs down. The e-mail also states that Doane “moved to renew the Board’s previous offer for a one-year extension, with no changes to the contract other than (a) a salary increase for the additional year using the same formula in the current contract, and (b) adjusting the next deadline for the Board to inform the Superintendent of whether it wishes to further extend his contract to February 15, 2020.”
Ryan Murdock, one of five yes votes, seconded the motion. He was joined by Bob White, Dennis Smith, Jackie Clark and Balagna.
That statement indicates there was a previous offer on a one-year extension. Was that first offer (or subsequent offers) initially rejected?
Board members have been largely silent on the topic. And maybe this isn’t the time to make a big media event out of a contract extension.
Still, this is news and should have been treated as such out of our school district.
With our superintendent in place now for at least the next 27 months or so, maybe now is the right time for us to talk about having respectful and responsible conversations, collaborations and about what is best for all the students in our district while addressing areas of concern and performance.
It’s also time to loosen the reigns on our communications department and refocus efforts to bring positive press to the district.
Fortunately for our district communications director, Kelly Wachel, got a much-needed boost at the March 14 board meeting with the approval of not only an assistant director, but bumping her administrative secretary up to a specialist position.
These moves will cost the district $120,000, which will also pay for new video and audio equipment.
It’s a sound investment in a district that not only needs more money put into communications, but more communication in general.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.