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Will get $26,600 for 'transitional duties,' then $2,000 per month as consultant

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

He has announced his retirement and his replacement has been hired, but he isn’t really going away.

He is Mark Harpst and he has been hired to serve in a newly-created position for Platte County R-3. Harpst, who will “retire” at the end of June after 14 years as the superintendent at Platte County R-3,will become a financial consultant for the district beginning in November.

According to documents acquired by The Landmark via a Sunshine Law request, the R-3 school board on Feb. 26 agreed with Harpst on a deal to pay him $2,000 per month to perform duties as a “financial consultant” for two years, beginning in November.

The move to hire Harpst as financial consultant passed by a vote of 6-1, with board member Trish Stinnett opposed.

Under terms of the agreement, Harpst will work 550 hours per year maximum. There is no minimum number of hours spelled out in the agreement.

Though the deal was cut five weeks ago, no announcement of the agreement had been made by R-3. School leaders--after realizing The Landmark had acquired the information and would be reporting the move in this week’s issue--sent out an email to staff late Monday informing them of the board’s intent to “retain Dr. Mark Harpst as a consultant.”

In the same Feb. 26 executive session in which it was agreed to hire Harpst as a consultant, the board had approved the hiring of Tammy DiPonio as assistant superintendent. A news release announcing DiPonio’s hiring was sent to the media that same week, though no release was issued in regard to the hiring of Harpst as a consultant.

In addition to a salary of $2,000 per month, the district will also provide Harpst health insurance coverage during his time as a consultant. That benefit will come at a cost of $360 per month, according to John Cady, attorney for the school district.

Also in documents acquired via the same Sunshine Law request, The Landmark learned the school board has approved an amendment to Harpst’s superintendent contract. That amendment--approved on Feb. 26 in the same closed session in which Harpst was hired as consultant--calls for Harpst to be paid $26,600 for “transitional duties.”

The $26,600 is in addition to his regular annual salary of $167,500, according to the documents.

The move to hire Harpst as a financial consultant came about two months after the school board hired current assistnat superintedent Mike Reik to be Harpst’s replacement. Board officials at the time said Reik, who has no previous experience as a superintendent, was selected after what the board termed a nationwide search that drew highly qualified candidates. Reik’s annual salary as superintendent will be $125,000.

Is the hiring of Harpst as a financial consultant an indication the board feels Reik isn’t ready to handle all the duties associated with the position of superintendent?

“No, it’s an acknowledgment of the size of this business and how important the financial well-being of this business is,” said board member Mary Temperelli, referring to the school district as a business, when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

Temperelli said in her opinion, the board would have needed Harpst to work as a financial consultant to the district no matter who had been hired as superintendent.

In an interview, Harpst said the duties he will be performing as financial consultant are many of the same duties he performed as superintendent (see related story). Asked whether he will look to perform consultant duties for other school districts, Harpst said “that still remains a possibility but I want to slow down for a while and take a deep breath.”

Harpst declined to comment to the question whether the newly-created position was his idea or whether he was approached by the board. Bob Shaw, board president, said there had “basically been discussions all along” about Harpst’s availability for such a position.

Asked why he feels the position is necessary, Shaw answered:

“I don’t know if I would use the word necessary. I would use the word desirable and advantageous to the district. He is a leading expert in the state of Missouri on school finance,” Shaw said.

Asked why the deal is for two years, Shaw hesitated, saying “it’s been a month and a half ago that we discussed this.” He then added: “I think the idea is that two years will be sufficient time for Mike to absorb just about anything Mark has to offer. Obviously, they are working together now, working toward transition and have been for the past several months.”

Asked about the portion of his contract obtained by The Landmark that clearly spells out the $26,600 Harpst is to be paid for “transitional duties,” Shaw said: “I don’t recall that language, but expect he will continue to provide the kinds of things he’s doing now and provide assistance in financial issues and things of that sort.”

Sharon Sherwood, board member, said having Harpst as a financial consultant will keep Reik from being pulled in “too many directions.”

“Mark has been a powerhouse in that area as well as a number of other areas. I’m confident that Mike will be the same type of powerhouse.”

Sherwood said the hiring of Harpst should not be seen as a slap at Reik.

“I think anyone we had brought in (as superintendent) would have most likely needed this,” she said. “I think (Reik) is vastly prepared for his position. The financial part of it is just so much different than it used to be.”

Sherwood and others said Harpst will not have an office at the district education center while serving as a consultant. “Any communication will most likely be made from the home,” Sherwood said.

Asked whether the district will continue to use a financial consultant once the two year deal with Harpst has expired, Sherwood said: “It’s my perception that we will not have a need. Ultimately they are (Reik’s) responsibilities.” Sherwood said the two-year length of the pact with Harpst was because “we needed to have something to be appealing (to Harpst) and to allow ample time” for the transition to Reik.

For his part, Reik’s public reaction is that he is glad Harpst will remain on board in a consultant role.

“My reaction is it’s a great resource. Mark will be my resource and it’s a great opportunity to continue to learn from him.

“It’s an opportunity that presented itself and I’m obviously in full support of the board’s decision. People in the district know who I am, know what my capabilities are and those people will understand clearly that I’m the superintendent,” Reik said.

“I feel like I have the full confidence of the staff. In my honest opinion, if the board had any reservations in me they wouldn’t have hired me. I don’t think they would have put themselves in a position to be duped by a superintendent who doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Reik added via phone Tuesday evening.

Karen Wagoner, board member who is on the ballot for reelection next week, said the hiring of Harpst as a consultant would have been done regardless of who was hired as new superintendent.

“It was a decision reached by the board to ensure financial stability of the district. It was something we felt was necessary because obviously there is a learning curve. Our district is unique in that we have the airport and tax incentives that we deal with,” Wagoner said.

Wagoner said in her option it did not reflect a lack of confidence in Reik. “It was something we would have had to deal with,” she said.

Multiple attempts to reach board member Dave Holland for comment were unsuccessful by deadline.

Stinnett, when reached for comment on her vote opposed to the move, said she had been told by the school district’s attorney that board members could not comment on executive session matters. When told other board members who had been reached were commenting, Stinnett replied: “I am disappointed that the other school board members didn’t get the memo that we were advised by our attorney, John Cady, we could not comment on executive session discussions. I assure you I had numerous reasons for voting no on this issue, but once again I have been advised by our district attorney, Mr. Cady, I cannot comment on the reasons I voted no.”



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