by LAURA HAYES
Stephen West has officially left Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). Receiving an around $40,000 payout for unused sick and vacation days and health insurance, West’s resignation followed a Winona Post investigative report which showed that he no longer held a doctoral degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (SMU) that he was awarded in 2009.
SMU officials reported that West did not have the degree after a local university professor uncovered what he/she called “egregious plagiarism” of his doctoral thesis entitled “Male African Americans Motivations for Becoming Principals.” A line-by-line analysis of West’s 2009 thesis showed that over 70 percent of it mirrored a thesis written by Dennis Leroy Humphrey for the University of Georgia in 2007, according to the professor. The professor forwarded this information to SMU in an effort to prompt an investigation this fall, and SMU later released a statement indicating West did not hold a doctorate from the university.
West announced his resignation in an email to WAPS staff in November, writing that he had no intention of being a “lame duck superintendent” and said that he would finish out the school year and stay on until summer. Following the Winona Post investigative coverage of his thesis and lack of a doctorate, on January 2, West signed a separation agreement affective January 5 at 11:59 p.m. Though he was still employed with the district during the School Board meeting on January 5, he did not attend the meeting.
The School Board on Thursday unanimously agreed to pay West just over $40,000 — $40,832.85 — for unused sick and vacation days and family health insurance, as part of the separation agreement, and both parties agreed to refrain from making disparaging comments about one another. Under his current contract with a salary of $140,000, West annually earned 25 days of paid vacation and 15 days of paid sick leave. According to his contract, the district provided West and his dependents with health insurance coverage under WAPS’ group health plans at the expense of the district.
Aside from the unanimous vote, board members did not discuss the separation agreement or $40,000 payment.
Board member Steve Schild nominated Director of Learning and Teaching Kelly Halvorsen, who has a superintendent’s license, to fill West’s shoes as interim superintendent. The board unanimously agreed.
New board member Allison Quam asked what would happen to Halvorsen’s position, which coordinates curriculum and teaching at District 861. Human Resource Director Pat Blaisdell said that the district would internally post a position for a teacher on special assignment, who would not fill Halvorsen’s current duties entirely, but “pick up the slack to make sure that we were able to get everything done that we needed to get done in the office.”
Quam asked if there were any people in the community that could act as interim superintendent. “It sounds like if [Halvorsen] does take on this position, we have to shuffle some other staff personnel around,” she said.
“If it were a longer term, I think that would be something that we would definitely look at,” Blaisdell said. She said that interim superintendent would only be needed for five months. “There would be such a learning curve with someone coming in that doesn’t know the system that I don’t know if they would be as effective in terms of making sure that we were able to accomplish everything that we need to accomplish in the department,” she added.
Bartleson returns as search consultant
Additionally, the School Board had to select a firm to help search for a new superintendent. At administrators’ recommendation, the board hired PEER Solutions for $11,900 with reimbursed expenses capped at $2,500.
Blaisdell said that PEER Solutions works with Eric Bartleson, who served as WAPS superintendent until 2004. “He would participate in the project as well, which I think would be very beneficial for us to have someone working on the project who has a lot of knowledge about the community and district and is right here in town and available to us at a moment’s notice,” Blaisdell said.
To read the Winona Post's investigative coverage of West's thesis and lack of a doctoral degree, search "Mr. West does not hold a Dr. degree from [SMU]."
Keep reading the Winona Post for more.