EAST WHITELAND - Questions were raised at the Great Valley School School Board meeting last Monday regarding the status of Superintendent Rita Jones' contract.
"It's a matter of great concern to the community," said Audrey Van Loan, a frequent critic of the administration, who asked the board on June 18 whether negotiations were under way regarding Jones' contract.
School board members have been receiving e-mails from members of the community.
"There is a lot of noise in the community about the contract," said Eugene Kozik, a retired Penn State Great Valley professor, in an interview Monday. Kozik was the top vote-getter along with John McDowell in the May primary for two school board seats in Great Valley Region 3. Kozik and McDowell are front runners to win school board seats in the November general election.
Board President Susanne Carr said that she wanted to set the record straight. "I'd like to put the rumors to rest. There have been no secret meetings. No meetings whatsoever about the superintendent's contract."
Carr went on to say that the next meeting for the board was in August but did not comment on whether the topic would be on the agenda.
Jones' five-year contract expires in August 2008. The current contract was negotiated with Jones in August 2002, a year before the contract was due to expire.
According to the terms of Jones' current contract, the board can start to renegotiate or approve a new contract one year in advance of the expiration of the existing contract, said Great Valley Finance Manager Chuck Linderman in an interview Tuesday. The board also has to notify the superintendent no later than five months in advance of the expiration of the current contract if it is not going to be renewed.
It's not unusual to start discussions regarding a superintendent's contract one year prior to its expiration, said Bob Yorczyk, a member of the Downingtown Area School Board and chairman of the Finance Committee. It is written in the superintendent's contract that he/she must be notified one year before the contract expires whether the contract will be renewed or not, Yorczyk said in an interview Monday.
"If the contract is not renewed, then the superintendent needs time to find a new job," said Yorczyk. The way the procedure works at Downingtown, is that one year before the superintendent's contract is set to expire, the school board meets in executive session to take a vote on whether to renew the contract. "Many times if it is a close vote, a superintendent will decide to quit because they do not want to work in a school district where they do not have the full support of the board," he said. Even if a superintendent's contract is not renewed, the information is typically not made public until the board announces the start of search for a new superintendent.
If the contract is renewed, then the negotiations are in private and it is not until the contract is complete that it is released to the public.
One of the criticisms leveled at Jones, is students' performance on standardized tests. In October when SAT scores were released, Great Valley High School seniors' average math scores had fallen 10 points below the year before. While some of the decline may have been attributed to a new test that the College Board introduced that year, other area high schools' students scores did not decline.
Great Valley subsequently investigated the math curriculum and determined that in some cases students were taking standardized math tests on subjects that they weren't required to have studied yet. Since then, the district has realigned the math curriculum to closely follow the state standards.
Jones served as a superintendent with the Daniel Boone Area School District in Berks County before joining Great Valley in 1994.