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School district to self-correct secret pay raise for superintendent

Education

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ARIMO — The Marsh Valley School Board plans to self-correct its secretive process for approving a pay raise for its superintendent after EdNews filed a formal complaint with the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office.

The board will hold a special meeting on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. “for self-recognition of violation of Open Meeting Act and declaration of voiding action on December 10, 2019,” the meeting’s agenda reads. The board had planned to correct the violation on Jan. 7 but later rescheduled the meeting for next week.

The Jan. 14 agenda lists the superintendent’s evaluation as an action item.

EdNews first reported that trustees agreed — during a closed-door executive session on Dec. 10 — to extend Marsh Valley Superintendent Marvin Hansen’s contract to a three-year agreement and fund an unspecified “salary increase” effective July 2020, according to draft board minutes obtained by EdNews through a public records request. The meeting’s agenda included nothing about prospective changes to Hansen’s contract with the district.

Board chair Don Nielsen would not disclose the decision’s financial impact on taxpayers following the closed-door December meeting.

“This is the same process the board has followed for at least 16 years,” Hansen told EdNews last month.

Idaho’s open meeting law requires the formation of public policy to be conducted in open meetings. Private approval of the extended contract and pay raise — and Nielsen’s refusal to disclose the details — made it impossible for taxpayers to understand their financial obligation to Hansen.

On Dec. 18, EdNews filed a complaint with Bannock County Prosecutor Stephen Herzog regarding the apparent open meeting violation. Bannock County Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Matt Kerbs told EdNews Tuesday that his office had not yet reached out to the district regarding the “probable violation,” but added, “It appears the Board plans to correct what I would have asked of it, in a suitable manner.”

“I anticipate reaching out to the Board and clarifying a few open-meeting shortcomings and opportunities for improvement … moving forward,” Kerbs told EdNews.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria told EdNews Tuesday that her organization had referred the district to legal counsel following the apparent violation.

Hansen’s 2019-20 salary is $108,973.

The Marsh Valley district is located in Arimo, some 25 miles south of Pocatello. The district enrolls around 1,300 students from several surrounding small towns.

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