As a longtime building administrator for ISD423 at the Hutchinson Middle School, I can no longer sit idle without speaking out about what is occurring in the school district.
Staff morale is as low as I ever saw it in my 31 years of working for the district. To the point that good people are leaving the district. This is due to how multiple years of reductions resulting from declining enrollment have been handled, lack of positive relationships between district leadership and staff, and the pandemic, which has added to the stress but it is not the cause. Things were in decline well before the pandemic arrived. A lack of district-level educational vision for all buildings is the cause.
By their own admission, district leadership has been concerned about declining enrollment for the past 10-12 years. As a result the district has been forced to make building-level program and staff reductions four out of the past five years. That being said, I question why the previous School Board would offer significant salary increases for the superintendent and business manager over their last two contracts, and why leadership would accept those raises when they have firsthand knowledge of the district’s financial situation. Then they turn around and use declining enrollment as a reason why the district cannot afford to give building-level staff a fair wage increase.
I also question the decision to hire a third elementary principal. The district has operated the K-5 grade levels with two principals and an assistant principal ever since West Elementary opened. Hiring a third elementary principal means each elementary administrator will be responsible for only two grade levels. Having three elementary building principals adds to the administrative expense of the district. With declining enrollment I ask why is there the need for a third principal? This is not financially efficient.
Building relationships is one of the cornerstone beliefs of the district. Currently staff are afraid to speak out or question ideas for fear of retribution. This is not a healthy relationship. I was once told, by a leader whom I admire, that as a leader you will know how much authority or power you have when you don’t have to use it to accomplish your goals. I would much rather use my humanity and people skills over having to use my authority in a people-driven industry.
The community sees much-needed new facilities being built and believes everything is moving in a positive direction. However the buildings are only the facade. What really matters is what goes on within those buildings. The School Board and district leadership need to be held accountable, as the district will be coming back to us tax payers in the next year or two to renew and increase the current school levies.
At a time when budget decisions are being made for the upcoming school year, the community needs to start asking questions.