The superintendent of the West Bend School District, who has been on leave since August, has tendered his resignation after just 18 months on the job in what appears to be a disagreement with board members.
The West Bend School Board accepted Superintendent Erik T. Olson’s resignation on a unanimous vote late Wednesday after a closed-door executive session. Olson submitted his resignation Dec. 14, saying he had come to the realization that “a majority of board members and I have differing visions for the school district’s direction.”
School Board President Tiffany Larson issued a statement thanking Olson on behalf of the board and said it would begin searching for a replacement.
Larson did not return telephone calls seeking comment, and efforts to reach Olson by telephone and email were not successful.
It was not immediately clear whether Olson, who has two years left on his $155,000-a-year contract, will be receiving a buyout.
“I can’t answer that right now. That hasn’t been finalized,” School Board Treasurer Monte Schmiege told a West Bend journalist following the meeting, according to a video posted online. Schmiege declined to comment further when reached by telephone Thursday.
Olson’s months-long absence and resignation are the latest controversy in the Washington County district, which was roiled by a spate of departures last school year, including four English teachers just days before the summer break.
Olson took medical leave on Aug. 14 following a surgery. But that was converted to an unspecified paid leave in October.
Laura Jackson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning who is serving as interim superintendent, and spokeswoman Nancy Kunkler said the leave was granted at Olson’s request and that it was not punitive. However, they declined to elaborate, calling it a personnel matter.
Olson was hired July 1, 2016, after a unanimous vote of the School Board. But the makeup of the seven-member board has changed since then with the election or appointment of six new members, some of whom are seen as more sympathetic to the teachers union, including Larson.
It had been speculated that there was friction between Olson and the new board majority, and his resignation letter appears to support that assertion.
Former Board President Randy Marquardt said Olson, when he was hired, stepped into an ongoing struggle between teachers and administrators over control of the school district. Among the flashpoints were a new curriculum and testing system the district planned to implement.
That conflict prompted an exodus of administrators, he said, and it erupted in May with the sudden resignation of four of the six English teachers at West Bend East and West High Schools just a week before summer vacation.
Olson’s handling of those resignations appeared to exacerbate the friction in the district.
“There was a general consensus that that was not handled well,” said West Bend Educators Association President Tanya Lohr.
Olson said at the time that change is natural.
“In order to grow as a learning institution and continue to advance our reputation as a high-quality and efficient system, transformations will naturally occur,” he said.
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