Nampa superintendent’s one-time payments concerned two trustees

Nampa School District Superintendent Paula Kellerer gave herself and staff members coronavirus-related stipends without first getting board approval, and a string of emails between two board members illustrates confusion and concerns.

Kellerer told staff members in a Nov. 6 email that they would receive payments — later listed as stipends in board minutes — intended to recognize staff’s extra work during the pandemic.

In email exchanges obtained by Idaho Education News, board chair Kim Rost and trustee Allison Westfall questioned the process.

Westfall to Ross: “(H)ave we given our executive the power to increase her pay without Board approval?”

Rost to Westfall: “I am extremely concerned about this and would like to understand to the extent of is this a fireable offense.”

Stipends were handed out on Nov. 12. Trustees met in executive session and consulted with an attorney before they ratified the stipends on Nov. 17.

Kellerer told Westfall in an email that she also received a stipend on Nov. 12, but that she would give the money back. Kellerer’s administrative assistant Tammy Wallen told EdNews this week the district “voided” Kellerer’s Nov. 12 payout and she received a new one on Dec. 1, which she kept, after the board approved it. Kellerer’s stipend was worth $3,824, or 2.5 percent of her $152,967 salary.

Kellerer declined to be interviewed for this story, communicating with EdNews through Wallen and Nampa district spokesperson Kathleen Tuck. Westfall also did not respond to questions from EdNews. Rost only confirmed to EdNews that the board consulted with an attorney before ratifying the stipends.

Districts can — and have — used federal COVID-19 relief funds to boost pay for staff during the pandemic. Check back with EdNews this week for more on how local K-12 leaders have spent their relief money.

A timeline of events and emails

Here’s a timeline of emails and board action, chronicling the November transactions:

  • Nov. 6: Kellerer tells staff in an email that they’ll each receive a stipend worth 2.5 percent of their base salary.
  • Nov. 11: Rost and Westfall outline their concerns about the stipends in emails to each other. Westfall says there was a “report” and “discussion” about the stipends but “no action” taken by the board. “(H)ave we given our executive the power to increase her pay without Board approval?” Westfall writes. Rost responds: “I am extremely concerned about this and would like to understand to the extent of is this a fireable offense.” Westfall suggests the board seek legal advice on how to handle the situation. Rost agrees.
  • Nov. 12: Nampa pays staff, including Kellerer, nearly $1.7 million in stipends, which come from $8.5 million the district received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
  • Nov. 16: Trustees hold an executive session, in which dozens of educators swarm district headquarters and blow their car horns in support of Kellerer. Neither the board nor Kellerer have said if the superintendent was the subject of the closed-door meeting.
  • Nov. 17: Trustees ratify the stipends, including one for Kellerer, on a 5-0 vote during a special meeting.

When EdNews asked in an email what changed from the time Westfall and Rost discussed their initial concerns about the stipends to when trustees unanimously ratified them, Rost said, “(W)e obtained legal advice and met as a full Board.”

‘Paula will you receive a check?’

Nampa spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck told EdNews last week that Kellerer was included in the initial round of stipends paid out on Nov. 12, but that the superintendent “declined to accept” hers until after the board’s Nov. 17 ratification.

A Nov. 12 email from Kellerer to Westfall reveals that the superintendent received the payment and offered to return it.

“Paula will you also receive a check?” Westfall wrote. Kellerer responded seven minutes later: “I did. Didn’t even think about that. Happy to give it back.”

Wallen said Monday that the superintendent told staff prior to the Nov. 12 payout that she was “not to receive a stipend when they were issued.” Despite that directive, “someone didn’t get the message” and the superintendent’s payment was sent out but later “voided.”

Kellerer kept her Dec. 1 stipend following the board’s Nov. 17 vote to ratify them, Wallen added.

Parents express frustration about stipends amid online learning

Kellerer and the board last month moved the district into distance learning through at least Jan. 13. Administrators have pointed to pandemic staffing constraints as a major reason for the change.

Some parents say the district could do more to keep kids in school, and that the stipends represent a lack of regard for kids stuck learning at home.

“The superintendent gave herself a $3,824 stipend at a time when (the district) only pays $95 a day to substitute teachers and telling us one of the reasons our kids can’t go to school is because they don’t have enough substitute teachers,” said Nampa parent Isaac Brewer, who obtained some of the emails mentioned in this story through a public records request and shared them with EdNews.

The district on Nov. 2 increased pay for subs from $80 per day to $95 per day, with the potential for an additional $100 if a substitute works four days in a week, excluding Wednesdays, Tuck told EdNews last week.

Nearly 1,000 parents have joined a private Facebook group designed to push back on remote learning called “Nampa Parents for the Reopening of NSD Schools.”

Trustees hired Kellerer to lead Nampa in 2017. She signed a three-year contract with the district in August. Her base salary is $152,967.

EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this story. 

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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