The time is not right to extend Fox C-6 School District Superintendent Nisha Patel’s contract, at least that’s what some Board of Education members say.
Typically, the Fox school board reviews the superintendent’s performance in January or February and votes on whether to extend his or her contract by a year.
In a Feb. 4 closed meeting, the Fox board voted 4-3 against extending Patel’s contract for another year, and instead will reconsider the extension in October.
Patel, who was hired last year to replace former Superintendent Jim Wipke, has a three-year contract that began July 1, 2019. She is being paid $182,500 this school year.
Carole Yount, Vicki Hanson, Jim Chellew and Judy Smith voted not to extend her contract. Steve Holloway, Scott Stewart and Dawn Mullins voted to extend it.
“Overall, I have no objections to Dr. Patel as a superintendent,” said Yount, who’s been on the board since 2016 and is the current board president. “The only issue I have is she has only been in the position for six months. In my mind, it is difficult to extend a contract after six months. Do I hope she stays with us for five years? I hope she stays with us until she retires.”
Patel, who has been with Fox since 2016 when she was hired as the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of secondary education, said the board’s decision won’t affect her work on behalf of the district.
“I love the kids, staff, and parents of the Fox school district, and I will continue to work my hardest every single day so that we are a successful organization,” she said. “I am of course disappointed with the decision, but at the same time, ultimately, it’s the board’s decision and I respect their decision.
“When I was announced as the incoming superintendent of Fox C-6 School District a year ago, I said that I was proud to be a part of this district and that they would see me work my hardest to make sure every child enters with a promise and leaves with a purpose. I am committed and determined to do just that for as long as the board wishes.”
Wants more time
Patel’s contract says, “By February 15 of each fiscal year that this contract remains in effect, the Board shall notify the Superintendent whether it intends to extend this contract for an additional fiscal year after the end of the then-current term. The terms of any extension shall be approved and reduced to writing by means of an Addendum to this contract or in a new contract incorporating such extension.”
When the time came this month to decide whether to extend Patel’s contract, Smith, Hanson and Chellew agreed with Yount, saying it was too soon to add another year.
“By no means is this a vote of no confidence on her,” said Smith, who was elected to the board in 2019. “It is strictly a matter of she has a three-year contract, and it was too soon to go ahead and offer another year. I’m sure, come October, if things continue the way they are, it will be no problem whatsoever to extend her contract.”
“Dr. Patel has been in the position for a little over six months now and that is insufficient time to fully evaluate her progress on the goals she established for herself and the district, especially as a new superintendent,” said Hanson, who was elected to the board in 2018. “I have every confidence in her and she is doing a good job.”
Despite voting against extending Patel’s contract, Smith said Patel has done a lot of good work.
“Her listening is unbelievable. When someone calls, she is a very good listener, which makes people feel comfortable and valued,” Smith said. “That is something that had been missing prior to her being the superintendent. People didn’t feel like their voice was being heard. She has turned that around.”
Chellew, Yount and Smith also pointed out that Patel was given a three-year contract, so she will not enter the 2020-2021 school year wondering if she will get to return for the following school year. Wipke received just a two-year contract from Fox when he was hired in 2014.
“What I would expect would be to have at least one year to observe that superintendent to see how well she can identify weaknesses in the system and also develop action plans to address those weaknesses. We really can’t find that stuff out until a full year is complete,” Chellew said. “I believe it would be irresponsible of any board to extend a rolling three-year contract before they have a chance to really view the entire performance of the person. There has been nothing to indicate at this stage of the game not to extend that rolling contract, but we don’t have all of the information yet.”
Chellew said he wants more information about how the district will improve student achievement before making a decision about Patel’s contract extension.
“Keep in mind, we just experienced three years of declining performance (in standardized test scores). That has to be addressed. We have implemented a couple of new programs in the district, block scheduling and moving sixth-graders up to the middle school, and there really has been no evaluation of the effectiveness of those programs relative to student learning. I would hope to see is this working, and if there are weaknesses, what kind of actions do we need to take to fix those things.”
Ready to extend
Holloway, Mullins and Stewart, on the other hand, said Patel’s contract should have been extended.
Holloway said Patel is one of the most respected superintendents in the area and deserves to know she has the confidence of the school board.
“It is almost always the case across the St. Louis area that superintendents are granted a rolling three-year contract from the school board to show support and belief for the leader of their district,” said Holloway, who was elected to the board in 2013 but is not seeking re-election in April. “It is also typically known that when a school board does not pass an extension it usually is viewed as a vote of no confidence.”
Mullins said she, too, has confidence in Patel’s ability to lead the district.
“Throughout her career as an educator and administrator, Dr. Patel has displayed superior leadership skills, along with a positive and proactive style that has benefited our district as a whole and our students in particular,” said Mullins, who was elected to the board in 2014 and also is not running for re-election in April.
Stewart, who has been on the board since 2017, said he, too, believes Patel deserves to have an additional year added to her current contract.
“I made my vote because I think there are areas of concern such as state test scores, but the Fox district is headed in the right direction,” Stewart said. “I believe Dr. Patel has done a good job under trying circumstances in her eight months as superintendent. Administration-teacher relations have improved. Our budget/reserves have held steady, but I don’t think anyone could make that significantly better without hurting kids, staff, and teachers.”
Holloway said extending Patel’s contract had nothing to do with her salary.
“An aspect of the vote that may be lost in this discussion is that it did not have any relevancy to an increase in her pay. Any increase in salary for Dr. Patel was slated for future discussions. This vote would have just added another year to her contract that is currently in place.”
The 4-3 vote had those who previously worked for the district – Chellew, Hanson, Smith and Yount – on one side and those who have not worked for the district – Holloway, Mullins and Stewart – on the other.
“For anyone watching board politics for the past year or so, it is clear that the majority has shifted in favor of a group of individuals who prefer to take the district in a different direction than the board members I had previously worked with,” Holloway said. “Our previous approach included moving the district forward through difficult political and financial times. The district has made great strides and I prefer that it continue to move forward rather than backward to the strategies that were in place before I was elected to the board.
“For those reading this article, I would challenge you to make your voice heard in any form necessary to ensure those board members do change their minds. As board members, we work for and represent the voices of our community, and I believe our community is strongly behind Dr. Patel.”
Stewart also encouraged Fox community members to contact board members and ask them why they voted against extending Patel’s contract.
“The parents of this district need to be paying attention to this board,” Stewart said. “There is a real danger of the hard-won gains over the last several years being lost and the district moving backwards.”
Effect on Prop P
The board’s decision to delay a final decision to extend Patel’s contract comes about two months before voters will be asked April 7 to approve a $40 million bond issue.
The measure, which is called Proposition P and stands for “Promise, Purpose and Progress for our students,” asks voters to allow the district to sell bonds to build a new instructional wing at Fox High School, build additions at Meramec Heights and Antonia elementary schools, improve safety and security at all school buildings, improve pavement at all school buildings, upgrade playgrounds at all elementary schools and complete other capital improvement projects throughout the district.
Patel said she hopes voters focus on Prop P and not her contract status when they vote in April.
“It is ultimately up to the voter on how they want to vote, but as a district, our students and staff deserve a learning environment that allows them to thrive,” she said. “My hope is that the focus remains on just that – our kids and the future of this district and community.”
Yount said she doesn’t think the vote against extending Patel’s contract will affect the bond issue’s chances at the polls.
“I think if people understand the process of Prop P and understand it will benefit our kids, nothing will affect their thought process,” Yount said. “When they understand what we can do with $40 million, which is just a drop in the bucket of what we need, they will vote their conscience. I don’t think anything else will have an effect on that.”