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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Administrator Metras No Longer Pembine School Superintendent

Issue Date: January 16, 2019

In a letter dated Friday, Jan. 4, School Board President Vicki Fick staff, parents and other community members "to provide you with some additional information and context regarding the leadership changes in the district." The letter stated that effective Tuesday, Jan. 1, Chris Metras was no longer serving as Superintendent of the Beecher/Dunbar/Pembine School District.

Board Clerk Tina Duenweg read the letter aloud at the board's regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9. It stated: "While we are not able to provide much additional information, we can say, with the permission of Mr. Metras, that he has a planned surgery for some health-related issues. We wish Mr. Metras our very best for a speedy recovery." The letter went on to express thanks to Metras for his service to the school district.

"During his tenure as Superintendent, Pembine High School was recognized by U.S. News and World Report, and our elementary and high schools received the Title 1 Schools of Recognition Award at the state capitol. The District also achieved "significantly exceeds" and "exceeds expectations" the last two years on the Wisconsin District report card. Mr. Metras has many qualities as an educational leader and we wish him well in his future endeavors," the letter continued.

"In the coming weeks, the board will release a plan to find a long term successor to Mr. Metras. In the meantime, Julie Rittenhouse will serve as acting superintendent," the letter said. Rittenhouse is principal for the elementary, middle school and high school. The letter concluded with an expression of thanks for support of the school district.

The board made no further explanation of what had transpired. The regular board meeting on Dec. 12 had included closed session discussion, and the board had held a special closed meeting on Monday, Jan. 3.

Minutes of the Dec. 12 and Jan. 3 meetings state the board went into closed executive session to consider "employment, promotion, compensation or performance data of any public employees over which the body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility."

They took no action after returning to open session on Dec. 12, but minutes of the Jan. 3 special meeting stated that in the closed session members discussed a Personnel Concern and "motion was made to authorize Legal Counsel and Board President to conclude resignation as discussed in Closed Session and to accept resignation pursuant to approval of agreement." The Jan. 4 letter apparently came as a result of that action.

Before time for public input at the start of the Jan. 9 meeting, Fick reminded the audience that the board could not respond to any public comments, but encouraged anyone that wanted to make a statement to do so.

Duenweg then read the letter that the board had released on Jan. 4.

All board members were present. In addition to Fick and Duenweg they are Ryan Berger, Brian Bousley and Lee Niven.

First public comment speaker was Brent Griffin, who said he would need to talk quickly and mostly read his statement, as he had much to say in the three minutes allocated to each speaker. In a prepared letter he said his main concern was how Chris Metras' "resignation" was handled.

The letter went on, "I am concerned for our school (children, teachers, and their families) and for the Metras.  The way that the termination of Chris Metras' employment has been handled has caused fear, uncertainty, and doubts in many people's minds.  It is distracting our teachers and disrupting the education of our children.   People are wondering what happened?  Whether or not things were handled properly and ethically?  Some are wondering if they might be next.

"First let me start with what I personally know of Chris Metras:

"Chris loves the children and families in this school and community

"Chris would not suddenly resign in the middle of the school year

"My personal observation is that Chris and Margaret seem to be both surprised and hurt by whatever has happened here." (Margaret is a teacher in the school.)

"Chris and I both have bad knees and his upcoming "planned surgery for some health-related issues' is knee surgery."

"Based on what I know of Chris combined with the fact that both sides are saying they can't say anything more than what is in the letter, it seems very likely that some type of outside pressure or coercion was applied in order to get Chris to resign," Griffin continued.

"When I talked with one of the board members yesterday, they bluntly said that "You just have to trust your elected officials here.'  Let me explain some of the reasons why I personally find this difficult:

"From the public record, it would appear that to be in compliance with Open Meeting Laws that all of this must have been planned prior to the start of the school year, or planned in its entirety in the closed session of the Dec12th meeting.

"Official email from the board (via Julie Rittenhouse) sent out  Wed morning, Jan 2nd, before the board met the following day to authorize the president and legal counsel to conclude and accept the resignation

"After the email was sent out stating that Chris was no longer employed by the school district, office personnel were told to lie to people calling in and say that Chris was on personal leave.  If they were unwilling to lie, they were to forward the calls to Julie Rittenhouse so she could handle them.

"Board members telling people that they were going in different directions from Chris but then later telling others that is not the case.

"The letter is poorly written and fuels speculation," Griffin charged. He said the letter does not mention that he resigned - ""fueling wild speculations of what egregious things he must have done," and went on to say it is misleading, and "Uses Chris' upcoming planned surgery as a red herring - seemingly to imply that perhaps that is why he is no longer serving as the Superintendent."

Griffin continued: "When my personal knowledge of Chris Metras and the recent developments are combined, I personally am struggling to "Just trust my elected officials'.  It seems to me that if the board did not want to continue with Chris as the superintendent that it would have been better for all involved for them to own this decision rather than to orchestrate things so that Chris is bearing the weight of the wild accusations people are making in the current unclear situation.

"To trust our elected officials, we need to have confidence that things are being done ethically, legally, and in the best interest of all of our children," Griffin said, and concluded, "Anything you can do to address these concerns would be appreciated."

Jason Heath also addressed the Board with concerns about Chris Metras.

Andre Gazal asked the board why they would dismiss the Superintendent from our school system, ""while in your letter you praise him for his otherwise stellar accomplishments?" He asked the board for transparency.

Vince Czahor addressed the board as a school employee and parent of school and daycare children and asked what are the next steps. He said he wants what is best for the district and the students.

Dave Johnson also addressed the board regarding the resignation and gave some of his personal observations of board business. He expressed concerns for the future of the district and asked the board to release more information as soon as they can.

Mary Madegan stated that she was shocked at the news and was confused after reading the letter. She said she has many questions that she hopes will be answered in the near future.

Mike Madegan addressed the Board regarding his experience with the district. He said he didn't understand the change or the reason and told the board that answers are needed for the community.

Moving on the regular business, the board approved minutes of the Dec. 12 and Jan. 3 meetings. Later in the meeting the board unanimously supported a motion to accept Metras' resignation.

In her Principal's report, Rittenhouse told the board that students of the week for January are MacKenna Hirte, Macaela Corazolla, Cullen Zeigler and Hannah Niven.

The monthly Newsletter created by Remi Jones, school nurse was included in the board packet.

In an update on the Senior Trip, Rittenhouse said according to board policy guidelines, the senior class must have 50% of the total cost of the trip deposited into their account by January 15. The senior class has some students that are just short of the 50% mark, she said. The seniors have a fundraiser, bagging groceries, planned for Saturday January 19th, so their deadline for meeting the 50 percent payment goal was extended to the following Monday. At that point, they plan on evaluating each student's senior trip account and anyone that is below the 50% mark and does not plan on paying out of pocket will not be going on the trip, Rittenhouse said. They will be buying plane tickets after they have those numbers.

A copy of 1st Semester Exam Schedule for grades 6 through 12 was in the Board packet.

Pembine hosted their first Hi-Q match of the year on January 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the high school gym. Other matches are set for Tuesday Feb. 5 in Norway, Mich. at 1:30 p.m. and at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Suring.

By state law the district has to establish the number of regular and special education open enrollment spaces that will be available next school year. The board was told that caseloads for the 3.5 special education teachers are at capacity. As recommended, the board approved a motion setting no limitations on regular education students for open enrollment, but limiting all Special Education Open Enrollment to no more than the current 4K through 12 grade case load for 2019-2020.

Motion was made and unanimously approved to adopt the 2018 Adoption Resolution.

Also unanimously approved were motions to hire Stephanie Smiley as a part-time Child Care worker and Katrina deKoster as a long term substitute for HS/MS science.

Discussion on the Little Panthers Childcare Center was tabled to a future meeting.

The board then went into closed executive session for purposes of "Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility. (f) Considering financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons except where par. (b) applies which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations."

According to the closed session minutes, the board discussed a personnel matter, and there was discussion regarding administration.

After returning to open session Duenweg made a brief statement regarding the resignation of the District Administrator. No further action was taken, and the meeting adjourned.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 13.


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