Marsh Valley self-corrects secretive contract extension for its superintendent

ARIMO — The Marsh Valley School Board self-corrected its secretive process for providing a pay raise and contract extension to its superintendent, after Idaho Education News filed a complaint with the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office.

Trustees voted unanimously during an open meeting Tuesday to void past approval of the raise and contract extension, which the board OK’d during a closed-door meeting last month. The board then publicly re-approved the contract extension along split lines, but did not reauthorize the superintendent’s raise.

“We learn and we adapt,” board chair Kevin Fonnesbeck told EdNews following Tuesday’s meeting. “If we’re doing something wrong, tell us, and we’ll try to correct it.”

EdNews first reported that trustees agreed — during a Dec. 10 executive session — to extend Superintendent Marvin Hansen’s contract to a three-year agreement and fund an unspecified “salary increase” effective July 2020. The meeting’s agenda included nothing about prospective changes to Hansen’s contract with the district.

Then-board chair Don Nielsen would not disclose the decision’s financial impact on taxpayers following the closed-door December meeting. He said the board had handled superintendent raises and contract changes the same way for 16 years.

Idaho’s open meeting law requires the formation of public policy to be conducted in open meetings. Private approval of the extended contract and pay raise — and Nielsen’s refusal to disclose the details — made it impossible for taxpayers to understand their financial obligation to Hansen.

On Dec. 18, EdNews filed a complaint with the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the apparent open meeting violation.

Bannock County Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Matt Kerbs last week told EdNews that his office had not yet contacted the district regarding the “probable violation.” Kerbs said he anticipated “reaching out to the Board and clarifying a few open-meeting shortcomings and opportunities for improvement…moving forward.”

In redoing the process Tuesday, trustees voted publicly to extend Hansen’s contract to a three-year agreement effective July 1, 2020.

Fonnesbeck, Neilsen and trustee Jill Gunter voted to approve the extension effective July 1. Trustees Paige Armstrong and Kathy Egan opposed it.

“We wanted them to wait until June,” Armstrong said, adding that approving a contract extension in advance could allow a superintendent to be “asleep at the wheel” until the new contract goes into effect.

The board did not consider a raise for Hansen on Tuesday, but Fonnesbeck said trustees will reconsider granting the superintendent a 3 percent raise at an open meeting in the coming months.

Hansen’s 2019-20 salary: $108,973.

The Marsh Valley district is located in Arimo, some 25 miles south of Pocatello. The district enrolls around 1,300 students from several surrounding small towns.

Devin Bodkin

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. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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