By Kirsten Zoellner
At the July 17 meeting, the R-P School Board pulled a recommendation by administration to rehire of former varsity boys basketball coach Tom Vix from the consent agenda for special consideration. The district had sought applications for the position and both Vix and current assistant coach Chris Drinkall had applied. Typically, the district hires from within for positions, but will contract with non-district staff if no other applicant can be found. Superintendent Chuck Ehler indicated to the board that at the conclusion of interviews, he and Athletics Director Dan Bieberdorf made the decision to recommend a one-year contract for Vix for the 2017-2018 school year, citing Vix’s coaching accomplishments and years of service to the district.
After some discussion, Board Director Joyce Iverson motioned to rehire Vix. It was seconded by Director Julie Koop, but the vote ended in a 3:3 split, with Directors Valerie Howe, Dean Mierau, and John Pettit opposed. The decision was ultimately tabled for the next meeting.
Monday, August 21, at the first meeting in within the walls of the new school, administration again brought forth the recommendation to rehire Vix. Board Chairman John Linder began the discussion noting an email from Drinkall to Ehler removing Drinkall’s application for the position.
“Obviously Tom is a good coach; an asset to the community, but I’m frustrated with the process,” responded Mierau. He continued noting he’d spoken with Drinkall and suggested he and Vix operate with the two sharing the head coaching position. “Chris Drinkall ran the summer program. He’ll be here in Tom’s absence, while he’s teaching at Spring Grove. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Board Director Bonnie Prinsen, who was absent for the July vote, indicated she, too, had concerns. “It’s unfortunate how it all went down. It became a public issue of Tom versus Chris.” She further indicated that the board’s role is to approve or disapprove of the administration’s recommendations and that Mierau’s conversation with Drinkall was a board overreach.
Mierau countered that his role is to represent those who elected him to the board and again cited his displeasure with the hiring process and the precedence it set.
“We bring you a recommendation. If you don’t like it, let us know. Private conversations undermine our ability to find the best candidate,” stated Ehler. “It’s not about the individuals. It’s about the person for the position. Tom Vix has indicated he is not open or receptive to doing a co-head coach. He served our district for 33 years. A one-year contract will serve him and the district. It’s a win-win.”
Director Koop agreed with Director John Pettit’s assertion at the July meeting that the position should be offered to district employees before non-employees. “The statements they [Pettit and Mierau] made last month are true. If we’re going to talk the talk, we need to walk the walk.” Koop indicated she’d like to see a one-year contract for Vix, noting no option for another one-year contract the year after. “I don’t want to have this conversation next year,” because he did resign.”
“I own that, as your superintendent,” admitted Ehler. He then indicated that Vix was still an employee of the district when they’d discussed a limited contract. “If we have someone that tenders a resignation, it becomes a gray area. It’s a procedural thing. We’ll learn from this experience going forward.”
Director Pettit, however, stated further concern. “He resigned from teaching and coaching March 15. There wasn’t anything gray about it.” He indicated Ehler had discussed the matter with Vix in May and referenced a May 24 published article in which Vix stated there were possibilities to continue coaching at R-P or another area district that he was something of a free agent. “I don’t know where the free agent thing comes in and I don’t understand why we held this position. It seems we held it until he wanted it.”
At the conclusion of discussion, the board voted 5:2 in favor of Vix’s hiring.
The board also debated the possible hiring of a nurse to serve in the new school’s health office. Citing an email sent to the board from Deanna Thompson, the board rehashed where the district had been and where things were heading.
Prior to the consolidation of the Rushford and Peterson School Districts, Rushford’s Clinic was located directly across Mill Street from the school, so the idea of a school nurse was largely impractical. Several years after the consolidation, the clinic was purchased by Winona Health and relocated downtown. Teachers and staff were typically the ones responsible for assisting with student illness or taking of medications. Guidelines for health and privacy safety are now such that some districts will employ their own nurse.
“This is a great time to bring it to our attention,” said Director Pettit. “It absolutely needs to be dealt with. I can’t imagine the number of kids taking medication and the law has changed since then. The new facility has a health office. We should act on it.”
The board questioned what procedures were in place now. Ehler indicated that district administrative assistants are trained to take care of situations and medications. With a student population under 1,000, R-P is not required by law to employ a nurse.
“We can be on the leading edge of things or the backside,” added Pettit. “I think we should put our students absolutely ahead of the rest.”
District administration will gather information on how other small schools within the area deal with the issue and bring that information forward at the September board meeting.
The board also held a closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss the potential sale of the former elementary/high school facility.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, September 18, at 5:30 p.m., in the forum room.