2017-07-27 / Front Page

Nelson quits without warning

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


SUTTONS BAY Superintendent Chris Nelson is pictured here talking to the Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy’s board of directors about his proposal to “unify’ the schools. He recommended non-renewal of the school’s charter. SUTTONS BAY Superintendent Chris Nelson is pictured here talking to the Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy’s board of directors about his proposal to “unify’ the schools. He recommended non-renewal of the school’s charter.

Suttons Bay Superintendent Chris Nelson has resigned less than three months after receiving a glowing review by the district Board of Education.

Some 60 people attended a special meeting of the School Board called Monday to review a letter from legal counsel. The only item on the agenda was to consider a “resolution on employment of an employee.”

Board members went into closed session for more than an hour before re-emerging and hearing Nelson read a letter of resignation.

“It has been a very wonderful and rewarding experience,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “I believe that new leadership is in order for the district and some new, less stressful adventure is in order for myself.”


AN UNPRECEDENTED audience of 60 attended Monday’s special meeting of the Suttons Bay Board of Education where Superintendent Chris Nelson tendered his resignation. AN UNPRECEDENTED audience of 60 attended Monday’s special meeting of the Suttons Bay Board of Education where Superintendent Chris Nelson tendered his resignation. During a follow-up call Tuesday, Nelson said he’s been thinking about resigning for some time.

Board member Kim Eike said he could not comment on discussions held during the closed session.

Eike did, however, say that he had no communication from the superintendent about resigning prior to the meeting.

Nelson related his resignation to a need to make “hard decisions” since his arrival.

“Over the course of the past three years, a lot of hard decisions had to made,” he said. “It’s such a small school, it’s difficult to act without creating ramifications for adults.”

The most recent of those decisions was to issue layoff notices to 26-year teacher Jane Grishaw; elementary secretary Deb Kratochvil, a 19-year staff member; and Lisa Stark, who has worked in the counselor’s office for more than 10 years.

Nelson said earlier this month that staff cuts were based on employment evaluations and the impact of cuts on students.

But Kratochvil said she’s never received anything less than a “highly effective” rating.

It wasn’t just the staff cuts, but how they were conducted, audience members said Monday.

The room was filled with teachers — past and present — including retired business manager Janet Send, former board president Sue Lemmen, former superintendent Pat Gaudard and parents.

“There are a lot of really creative ways to do evaluations. You can involve students or other teachers,” Lemmen said. “No one should lose their job because of one person’s evaluation.”

Others spoke directly about Stark’s layoff and the impact it will have on her family. Stark’s husband is battling cancer.

“I can’t recall a single occasion in which she acted improperly,” said former social work Sue Chapman, who worked with Stark for 10 years before leaving the district in 2015 for a position elsewhere. “I never heard a complaint against her.

“I’m deeply concerned about how this transpired. It shows a disregard of her years of service to the district.”

Retired teacher Nancy Wick also questioned Sparks’ dismissal.

“Her husband is sick and you hit her over the head by taking her job from her,” Wick said. “The community is sorry she has to go through this.”

Board members were also taken to task by Suttons Bay graduate — and now parent — Jodi Francis.

“You lay teachers off and the superintendent gets a raise? I don’t understand,” she said.

The layoffs came during contentious contract negotiations with the Suttons Bay Education Association. The SBEA has twice rejected the district’s proposal for a new contract and has requested that a state fact-finder be called in to broker an agreement.

Two grievances have been filed and there are two unfair labor practice complaints prepared but on hold for now, SBEA negotiator and lawyer Ted Iorio said.

“We want this to be part of the past,” Iorio said. “And we’re hoping this provides an opportunity to finish this contract up.”

The teacher contract expires Aug. 31.

Nelson’s resignation runs counter to recent board actions affecting Nelson. In December, the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a contract extension to Nelson, extending his pact to five years. They also raised his salary to $110,000.

Nelson also received a “highly effective” rating from the board in April, citing improved standardized student test scores.

“We thought we were going in a good direction,” Board president Thor Mikesell said in a phone interview Tuesday. “With few exceptions we were happy with him.”

Nelson said he has some job prospects in mind. His wife, Holly, was hired in 2015 to fill a teacher vacancy for the school’s Great Start Readiness Program. She was not among the layoffs.

“I don’t think me resigning is going to impact the relationship she has with kids and their family,” Nelson said.

The superintendent began taking previously scheduled “personal days” after the meeting.

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Monday to discuss a possible severance package and how to proceed with just over a month remaining before students return to classes.

The school district faces a number of challenges, not the least of which is the prospect of greater scrutiny by the Michigan Department of Treasury based on a projected fund balance that could drop to $25,000 by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

The district has discontinued its food service contract with Traverse City Area Public Schools and is in the process of bringing the program in house.

In addition, there’s a vacancy in the guidance counselor’s office resulting from the retirement of Sarah Christensen.

A likely move would be to hire an interim superintendent, Mikesell said.


Related: Nelson lists accomplishments

Related: Notable events during Nelson's three years

Return to top

I don't know the circumstance

I don't know the circumstance involved in Nelson's resignation but sometimes a job is too much trouble to continue.