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NYM School Board 'serial meetings' firmly denied; Letter explained in prepared statement; Superintendent search to move forward

New York Mills School Board members are addressing concerns of alleged serial meetings and possible decisions made in the past without full board knowledge.

These issues came to light in a meeting in early February, when board members Chuck Jacobson and Jill Carlson questioned board chair Rachel Grieger regarding a letter given in October to Superintendent Todd Cameron without the knowledge of the whole board.

Grieger denied the letter at first, but acknowledged it when Cameron produced the document. At that time, the discussion was tabled until the district attorney could be contacted.

A week and half later, at a special meeting, both Grieger and Cameron provided statements. Both firmly denied the possibility that the school board ever broke open meeting laws. They also agreed that things could have been handled differently.

When it came to the letter, however, Grieger and Cameron "agreed to disagree."

Grieger read her statement first, which was meant to "clarify or correct statements" that were made during a Feb. 11 school board workshop.

According to Grieger's statement, on Oct. 9, 2012 she and then school board members Dan Welter and Tim Kupfer met with Cameron to discuss the "optional" third year on his contract.

This meeting was not a violation of open meeting law, because Welter, Kupfer and Grieger did not constitute a quorum of the board, nor did they make up a committee of the board, Grieger stated. Rather, it was officers of the board meeting with the superintendent for conversation.

Grieger admitted that she handed Cameron a statement at that October meeting: "I had, on my own, prepared a draft notice, which I gave to the superintendent for the purpose of alerting him of the possible outcome of a board discussion to be held at the next regular board meeting.

"It was not on official letter head, it was not signed and it was not resolved of any decision made by any individual or group of board members... It was neither a termination notice, nor did it mean that he would be terminated. Even so, I wanted to alert the superintendent that notice might be given."

Grieger addressed why she initially denied the letter: "At the last board meeting, when I was asked about the letter, I did not recall it as such, having not intended it as a 'letter.' Only when I was shown the document did I recall having given it to Superintendent Cameron.

"Although it was clear to me, I should have made it clearer to the superintendent that the document was not from the entire board. It was not the result of any formal action taken by the board. And it was nothing more than an unsigned draft that was not to be understood as requiring any action on the superintendent's part."

Grieger apologized for being unclear.

In Cameron's statement, he claimed that the "document" was in fact a "letter."

He read the first paragraph aloud: "Dear Superintendent Cameron, This letter serves as your preliminary notice that the current contract with Todd Cameron, superintendent, will terminate effective June 30, 2013."

He then explained his initial reaction to the crowd at last week's meeting: "My initial reaction is, 'You got to be kidding.'

"This letter serves that my position will terminate two months before the date I retire.

"It caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting that. At that point my reaction was, 'You know what, how about I retire effective August 31, 2013?'"

And though board members at the time (Oct. 9) agreed with Cameron's suggestion to retire, according to Cameron, "I wasn't told I had to."

In addition, "I did not know that other board members did not know about the letter or the meeting that night."

After the statements, new board member Amy Wallgren asked Cameron if he would have retired if had not received that letter.

"I would have waited," he said.

At that point it was up to the school board to decide whether or not to continue with the superintendent search that is in process or to offer another year to Cameron.

The board, along with the district's attorney, Kevin Rupp, stand by the opinion that the "optional" third year mentioned in Cameron's contract gives the district a choice about whether or not keep him that third year. They said the word "optional" did not mean what Cameron had intended it to mean -- that the board had the option of having him work full or part time.

This means a new contract would have to be drawn up and offered to Cameron in order to move forward, instead of the board simply extending his current contract.

After taking a few days to process this new information, board members met Monday night for their regular monthly meeting and approved a two-month contract for Cameron, covering July 1 through Aug. 31, at which time he will retire. Cameron will receive a salary of roughly $17,000 and a contribution of about $36,000 to the post-retirement health savings account. He will receive no other benefits.

The board decided to move forward with the superintendent search. The five contestants will be called and interviews will be tentatively set for Saturday, March 9.