Despite high marks, RCAPS unlikely to extend Westhoff's contract as principal; board president cites conflict of interests

REED CITY – An effective evaluation – or even two – does not guarantee a contract extension. That was the conclusion after a 100-minute Reed City Area Public Schools board of education meeting Tuesday. The purpose of Tuesday’s special meeting was to conclude the board’s evaluation of the Reed City High School principal. Typically, the superintendent would handle the high school principal’s evaluation. But at RCAPS, Steve Westhoff holds both positions, so the board stepped in. As board president Dan Boyer acknowledged the unusual situation, Westhoff requested the evaluation be completed in open session so the approximately 20 people in attendance could hear the board’s feedback. In both his role as superintendent and high school principal, the board ultimately rated Westhoff “effective.” Going line-by-line through the 23-part evaluation, each of the seven board members delivered a rating of the high school principal’s performance on a scale of “ineffective,” “minimally effective,” “effective” or “highly effective.” “I almost fell into the same trap that I want to make sure you aren’t falling into,” Jim Dawson told his fellow board members during the evaluation. “That is – I was thinking of my six years of history with Steven. Then I realized I’m evaluating Steven, the principal, of the last year.” The board hired Westhoff as high school principal in June 2012 after previous principal Tom Antioho retired. Westhoff accepted $20,000 in additional pay to take on the role of principal in addition to his responsibilities as superintendent – a significant savings compared to the cost of hiring another principal. The board entered into a one-year contract with the high school principal, with the intent of evaluating the results of the situation before the next school year. Throughout the evaluation, board members reminded themselves to evaluate the high school principal, not the superintendent. In some categories, they also deferred to feedback high school staff had given in evaluations of the principal, noting they don’t work with the principal on a daily basis. Overall, the board deemed the high school principal “effective” – with four votes as “ineffective” in various categories, 21 votes for “minimally effective,” 93 votes for “effective” and 38 votes for “highly effectively.” But – as Boyer said before the evaluation even began – ultimately that evaluation did not sway the board’s intent to deny Westhoff a contract extension as high school principal. “How the evaluation turns out doesn’t really matter necessarily,” Boyer said at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s a one-year contract, so if the high school principal is found even ‘highly effective,’ it doesn’t mean we need to retain the current high school principal.” The procedure for revisiting the high school principal contract is to submit a formal evaluation of the principal, which the board completed on Tuesday. The board then should present the principal with a letter of its intent regarding the contract. At the next regularly scheduled board meeting, the principal may appeal the intent and the board will take a final vote on the contract proposal. After the board’s evaluation, Westhoff was given the option to respond to their critique. At that time, he asked when the board would present him with a letter of its intent so that he would have time to prepare an appeal. Boyer then revealed the board had already completed a letter of intent, based on earlier discussions on the evaluation held among board members and the high school principal during closed session meetings. Because the discussions took place in closed session, Boyer did not wish to reveal the nature of the board’s intent. However, Westhoff read the letter and indicated the board is not planning to extend his contract. Westhoff asked the board how, based on its two “effective” ratings of his performance, they found evidence the current situation is not working. “When you are a superintendent or you are a principal, you have job duties and responsibilities,” Westhoff said during his response to the board’s evaluation. “The thing is that this board wants to have an incredible amount of input into every aspect of running the building. Usually that’s not the way things work. Usually, as principal or superintendent, these things are your responsibility, you go out and take care of them, you come up with the ideas and then you get evaluated and provide feedback. “But this board wants to be involved in ... every aspect of the (school) environment,” he continued. “That’s a very difficult situation in which you put any administrator trying to move forward. As an administrator, to lead effectively, sometimes you have to take some chances, sometimes you have to do some things that don’t always result in immediate success. But that’s what you do ... because you’ve got to be willing to take risks.” During public comment, Monty Price, assistant principal at the high school, said he also was confused on why the board did not intend to renew Westhoff’s contract as high school principal based on feedback in their evaluation. Boyer said he is not comfortable with the conflict of interests presented by having one person act as superintendent and high school principal, especially in areas of budgeting. He added he would like to see Westhoff focus solely on his duties as superintendent. Board member Ross Momany echoed Boyer’s sentiment, saying he is not in favor of renewing the contract. However, board treasurer Scott Ridderman said he is open to a contract renewal, adding that Westhoff needs more time to prove himself as high school principal. Dawson said he thought this board was micro-managing, where other boards may have found Westhoff’s performance in both roles for the district satisfactory. He did not specify if he is in favor of a contact extension for the high school principal at this point. The board will make its final decision on the contract proposal at the next regular meeting, set for 7 p.m. on April 22 at the board room at central office. Visit
to see video clips from the meeting.