by Valerie Verkamp and Ivan Foley
Just one month after the school board unanimously extended Dr. Scott Springston's contract through the 2017-18 school year, the superintendent has unexpectedly resigned from the Park Hill School District.
The district announced Monday evening that the school board “has agreed to Dr. Springston’s request to resign.” A district news release said Springston is resigning “to address health-related matters.”
Officially, the resignation doesn’t take effect until June 30 but Springston is no longer at work in the district. School officials say the board agreed that Springston will “be on leave” between now and June 30 “to focus on his health and family.”
Springston’s salary at Park Hill was $213,725.
The school board selected Dr. Jeanette Cowherd, an assistant superintendent, to serve as acting superintendent through June 30.
The deal to accept Springston’s resignation was finalized in a special meeting of the school board late Monday afternoon. Boon Lee, board president, told The Landmark that Springston was not present at that meeting.
Sources told The Landmark that Springston “took the week off before the (April 7) election” and “has not been around much since.”
Springston was absent at Thursday night’s reorganizational meeting of the board. Susan Newburger, board member, told the crowd Springston was absent because he was “ill.”
Bart Klein, board member, told The Landmark: “The situation that he (Springston) came to us with popped up in the last two weeks.”
Klein described the situation surrounding Springston’s desire to resign as “very sudden. We did not expect this.”
Matt Pepper, school board member, told The Landmark that the first closed meeting discussing Springston’s situation took place last Tuesday.
Lee, who was elected to replace Newburger as board president at last week’s reorganizational meeting, told The Landmark that the reasoning for Springston’s move is “something personal to him. It’s his health and his family.”
Springston’s resignation came as a surprise to employees and patrons of the district. The 44-year-old was completing his third school year as the superintendent of the largest employer in Platte County.
When asked why Springston chose to resign rather than take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees to take job-protected leave for certain family and medical related matters, the district's response failed to shed any light on that angle.
“That’s a question you would have to ask Dr. Springston,” Klein said.
Springston did not answer the door at his Weatherby Lake residence early Tuesday evening.
The decision to resign and give up benefits for a “health-related matter” seems peculiar to many observers. If Springston qualified for FMLA and decided to take advantage of the FMLA leave, he would have maintained the district's existing group health insurance coverage.
“That is his decision and we support him and hope that he will get well,” said Janice Bolin, board member, in a telephone conversation with The Landmark Wednesday morning.
“The matter falls under privacy and personnel issues and that is something I can't discuss,” said Nicole Kirby, the district’s director of communications.
When an employee leaves the district, Kirby said the former employee can no longer receive the same terms and conditions of the district's health insurance coverage. The former employee, using his own financial resources, is eligible to access continued health coverage through Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
In addition, to collecting his normal pay for the next two consecutive months, district officials said Springston will be fully compensated for any unused vacation days.
“This is true for all employees who resign from Park Hill,” said Kirby.
Prior to working in the district, Springston served as a superintendent of the Valley Center School District in Kansas for a period of approximately six years. He also served as a middle school principal and assistant principal in the Blue Valley School District.
Although he was well-received by many in the district, an organized group dubbed “Occupy Park Hill,” protested against the hiring of the “outside” candidate in the lobby of the district's office.
The school board approved his employment contract with a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2012.
Springston came to the district following the retirement of Dr. Dennis Fisher.
During an interview in 2012, Springston told The Landmark that the Park Hill School District's reputation attracted him to apply for the position. He said he measured success based upon the relationships he established with people.
Under Springston, the district proposed a 32-cent tax levy increase for technology at last April’s election. The measure, which among other things would have put a laptop computer in the hands of every student, was soundly rejected by voters with more than 60% opposed.
Earlier this year, Springston was fined $100 by the Missouri Ethics Commission after the commission ruled Park Hill had crossed the line from informational into advocacy in written communications distributed to the public during that campaign.
Despite those setbacks, some board members this week openly had positive reviews for Springston.
“I think overall the board was favorable with the direction he was taking the district. I think we are right on track,” said Klein.
Meanwhile, Pepper told The Landmark he expects the district will move forward with the recently-approved long range facilities plan developed under Springston. Two board members, Allison Wurst (who did not seek reelection) and Bolin, voted against that plan at a meeting in March.
As for the process of finding Springston’s permanent replacement, there is no word yet if the district will again hire a search firm to assist in that job.
In 2011, the district hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates at a cost of $22,000 to assist in the search for a new superintendent.
Kirby indicated the board will soon meet to make plans for the 2015-16 school year and the superintendent vacancy.
Cowherd, the interim superintendent, is currently the assistant superintendent for school improvement, with duties that include strategic planing, K-12 principal supervision and leadership development.
She has been in the district for 10 years, previously serving as a building administrator and assistant to the superintendent.
Before entering school administration, she was an instrumental music teacher in southwest Missouri and the Shawnee Mission School District.
According to information released by the district, Cowherd has been influential in the development of the Smart Start early literacy program and earned recognition throughout the state for her leadership in online learning.
Dr. Cowherd received the March of Dimes Teacher of the Year award, the Shawnee Mission West Teacher of the Year award and the Influential Educator award from the Missouri Scholars Academy.