Nearly 150 pack board meeting

By on June 19, 2019

A crowd of nearly 150 people jammed into the Warwick School Board meeting on June 18, filling the conference room and spilling into the lobby.

Many of them had come to express their concern about proposed raises for 12 Warwick School District administrators that were to be awarded by the school board for the administrators’ service in light of the “tragic events of last fall.”

That agenda item nine was stricken from the meeting and attachment #4 was not approved. Seven of the eight board members agreed not to vote on the raises.

Only one, Matthew Knouse, did not want to remove the attachment that would have awarded 1 percent raise increases to Dr. Melanie Calender, Dr. Ryan Axe, Nathan Wertsch, Mark Leidich, Dr. Kristy Szobocsan, Dr. KC Testerman, Sid Harrison, Scott Kyper, Dr. Steve Szobocsan, Dr. Michelle Harris, and Dr. Jennifer Murphy, and a 1.5 percent increase to Dr. April Hershey.

The administrators had already planned to decline the raises, issuing a statement on June 16 that read in part, “On behalf of the group of administrators slated to receive additional compensation as part of the board’s recommendation, we respectfully decline the additional salary increases. Our team is humbled by this gesture, and deeply grateful for the support and recognition of our board of school directors. We have felt that unwavering support throughout this very challenging school year and we are grateful for the board’s understanding and acknowledgment of the work of our team.”

The statement went on to say, ”We lead with our hearts, and it was for that reason that we responded as we did for our families, our students, our staff and our community. We will continue to serve in this way due to our commitment to our Warwick family.”

The first person to speak at the meeting spoke from a unique position in her support of the administrators and the school board.

Donna Nicholson Stief is the mother of Jack Nicholson, who was one of the two students who died as a result of a tragic car crash outside the high school in October 2018. She and her husband

Roger wanted to show their appreciation for everything the school district did to console and comfort their family.

An overflow crowd of about 150 people attended the Warwick School Board meeting — many had come to express their concern about proposed raises for a dozen district administrators that were to be awarded by the school board for the administrators’ service in light of the “tragic events of last fall.” Photos by Laura Knowles.

Donna Nicholson Stief, the mother of Jack Nicholson, who was one of the two students who died as a result of a tragic car crash outside the high school in October 2018, spoke in support for her appreciation for everything the school district did to console and comfort their family.

“Roger and I are passionate about Warwick School District,” said Nicholson Stief, adding that they appreciated the truth, respect, dignity and diplomacy that the school district exhibited at the time of the accident and in the eight months since.

She credited the Warwick School District administrators, teachers, staff, first responders, and the entire community with supporting the family and helping to make Warwick Strong.

“The words “Warwick Strong” are etched on my son’s gravestone,” said Nicholson Stief.

Nicholson Stief went on to say that “everyone was hurt by the tragedy.” She recounted the way administrators like Hershey and Szobocsan were with the families of the three teens, Jack Nicholson,

Meghan Keeney, and Rylan Beebe at the hospital and long after.

Nicholson died that Friday and Keeney died two days later from their injuries. Beebe suffered serious injuries and gradually recovered.

“The people who supported us are right here,” said Nicholson Stief, acknowledging the administrators. “And they deserve our utmost respect.”

She defended the Warwick School Board’s intention to show their appreciation by the means available to them. The board did what they were elected to do, she said, noting that the school board is not able to provide raises to teachers and other staff under contract through the collective bargaining agreement.

Nicholson Stief was distressed to see the “malicious” and negative attacks on social media from people who were angry about the proposed raises. She wanted them to know how much the

Warwick School District had done to help the families of Jack, Meghan, and Rylan, and later for Gracie King, whose death in December 2018 was ruled as suicide.

“After losing Jack, Meghan, and Gracie we need to keep Warwick Strong. We need to be better people,” said Nicholson Stief.

Lisa Hochreiter represented the Warwick Educators Association and said that while she appreciated the intention of the school board to reward the administrators for what they did during the tragedy and in months since, she felt that by tying the raises into the tragic events, it minimizes others who have given their time to the school.

She urged people to continue to show love and compassion to the families and friends of those who had suffered the losses.
“But in no way should we set a precedent to offer a reward or prize for what they do,” said Hochreiter, adding that establishing a scholarship would be a better way to support the school district.

Lititz resident Anne Pyle suggested that the school board consider using the funds to hire an additional counselor, who could help students deal with the tragic events of 2018 and future events that may occur.

“I am glad that the administration has not accepted the raises,” said Pyle.

Lititz resident and Warwick graduate Tom Benjamin was also grateful that the administrators decided to decline the raise. He questioned the school board’s decision to grant the raises to the administrators, admitting that he did not think the administrators requested the raises. He said he was suspicious that the board may have intended to award the raises without the community’s knowledge.

“I wonder as the board pondered this, why they did not think it was a bad idea,” said Benjamin.
Lynn Stover applauded the school board for its efforts to award the school district but agreed that the administrators did the right thing to decline the raises.

“Professional ethics make it difficult to feel good about accepting the raises,” said Stover, adding that he would like to see the money used to hire counselors and set up programs for handling grief, depression, suicide, bullying, and the isolation of social media.

School board president Michael Landis thanked the public for attending the meeting and participating in the discussion. He extended his sincere apologies for putting Dr. Hershey and the other administrators in the position of facing criticism from the public.

“We are saddened for you and your families that you had to endure the personal attacks on social media,” said Landis. “I regret anything that takes away from graduation last week of 339 Warwick High School graduates.”

Landis encouraged the Warwick community to remain Warwick Strong. He also invited the community to attend more school board meetings and become involved more directly, instead of using social media to express their opinions.

At least one board member did not think that the raises should be withdrawn. Matthew Knouse said that he was speaking personally, and not on the behalf of the school board.

“What was said to our staff on social media was unacceptable. They should be ashamed,” said Knouse. “I was appalled and disheartened by what I saw,” said Knouse. “I am sorry to the administration and in no way do I support striking it (from the agenda).”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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