Nyssa board OKs contract, airfare for Grotting to mentor and troubleshoot

NYSSA – The Nyssa School Board has agreed to pay a former superintendent living in Arizona $10,000 a month plus weekly airfare to help the district deal with a variety of struggles.

The board voted on a contract with Don Grotting to be the district’s compliance director during its Monday, Aug. 14. The contract was approved as part of the board’s consent agenda, a list of typically non-controversial items grouped and passed with no public discussion.

The board also approved a contract to keep Ryan Hawkins as superintendent through next June.

Grotting is anticipated to travel to Nyssa weekly, according to the contract. The agreement states the district will reimburse Grotting for airfare from Arizona to Boise.

Additionally, the contract says it expects Grotting will need to travel to Salem. According to the agreement, the district will pay for the flight, car rental, meals and lodging for such travel.

The term of the contract is indefinite and his employment is “at will,” and Grotting will serve “at the pleasure of the school board.”

Grotting said either he or the board could terminate the contract anytime.

Grotting waived health and life insurance, the contract states, but according to state law, the district will contribute to his state retirement plan.

Grotting, who served as Nyssa’s superintendent from 2000-2010, will oversee the district’s federal programs and mentor Hawkins and other district administrators and principals.

Grotting primarily has been tasked with helping the district handle the fallout from the Oregon Department of Education’s investigation of Nyssa’s migrant education program, according to Hawkins.

Hawkins recently served as the district’s assistant superintendent at an annual salary of $122,800. In a closed session, the board negotiated a 230-day contract with Hawkins, paying him $11,927. His contract runs from Aug. 1 to June 30, 2024.

The agreement states the board expects to find a permanent superintendent by July. If Hawkins is not selected, he could either return to being the assistant superintendent or fill a “similar” position.

However, Hawkins, who the Oregon Department of Education found to have children erroneously enrolled in the district’s migrant education, could be terminated should he be found to have not carried out his duties in a “professional and responsible manner,” the contract states.

Pat Morinaka, Nyssa board chair, said in a Monday, Aug. 21, email to the Enterprise that the board brought Grotting on to help the district with the state investigation of Nyssa’s migrant education program. She said Grotting would also provide “guidance and mentoring” as the district transitions to new leadership.

Also, she said, he would help the board in district governance, policy review and develop the relationship between the board and its administrators.  

She said Grotting brings “relationships, respect and proven success” from a career that spanned 25 years and, in addition to Nyssa, included stints as superintendent of the Powers, David Douglas and Beaverton school districts. Additionally, she said, Grotting has respect and strong relationships in Malheur County, the Education Department, the Oregon School Boards Association and superintendents throughout the state which, she said, would help the district “move forward in a timely and positive manner.”

According to Crystal Rideau, the district’s business manager, the budget for superintendent’s salary was depleted when the board agreed to pay a year’s salary to former Superintendent Darren Johnson. She said $300,000 remained in the budget for the superintendent’s office that would cover Grotting’s and Hawkins’ respective contracts.

Morinaka also noted that the district would not fill the assistant superintendent job left vacant by promoting Hawkins.

Grotting’s travel expenses would be limited to airfare, which should be about $200 per trip, Morinaka said. He would not be covered for other traditional travel costs such as lodging and meals.

Morinaka said the board “understands and acknowledges” the financial burden caused by paying Johnson a year’s worth of salary and legal costs associated with the migrant program. Grotting’s work will expedite a resolution and help the district move forward, she said.

The board and the district’s administration have a “shared responsibility” for past and present decisions that include financial and legal costs.

“The board is committed to rectifying past mistakes and issues that have negatively impacted the district,” Morinaka said.

Grotting began work on the district’s troubled migrant education program even before getting his new contract.

During the board’s Monday, Aug. 7, work session, Grotting reported meeting with some of Nyssa’s migrant program staff to prepare a report for the board. In a Wednesday, Aug. 16, phone interview, Grotting said the report he is compiling would not be a single report but would instead come in pieces he said he would share with the public.

Grotting said there appeared to be a misunderstanding between Vale, Adrian and Nyssa around eligibility and recruitment for the migrant program.

He said the goal of his research is to share with people why their families are or are not eligible to have children in the special education program.

“We want to provide the best services possible so our migrant kids can be successful in Nyssa, Adrian or Vale,” Grotting said.

Additionally, Grotting told the board he met with officials from the state education agency, along with Vale Superintendent Alisha McBride and Adrian Superintendent Nick Ketterling. He said the purpose of the meeting was to introduce Nyssa’s new leaders and build trust as the relationship between the districts became fraught.

Nyssa’s migrant education program, designed at the national level to ensure that children of migratory workers in agriculture have a chance for a good education, has been under investigation for nearly three years.

The Vale and Adrian School Districts participate but leave the program management to Nyssa officials.

Pat Morinaka, Nyssa School Board chair’s statement in full:

After careful consideration, the Board acquired Mr. Grotting’s services to help the district navigate issues and concerns from ODE and other stakeholders related to the Migrant 1C program. He will also provide guidance and mentoring as the district transitions to new district leadership and assist the Board in areas of district governance, policy review and developing a strong and collaborative working relationship between the Board and Administration.  Mr. Grotting’s relationships, respect and proven success throughout his 25 years as a successful superintendent working with Powers, Nyssa, David Douglas, Beaverton, ODE, OSBA and Malheur County and other Oregon superintendents will help NSD move forward in a timely and positive manner. 

Mr. Grotting’s travel expenses will vary and are dependent on airfare rates and travel frequency. I’m sure you have checked airfares between Boise and Phoenix and are aware that Allegiant Airlines often offers round trip rates from $78 to $200 on Sunday evening and Thursday morning. The Board is aware that prior to acquiring his services, Mr. Grotting had commitments that may require the use of other airlines with higher rates. When not in district, Mr. Grotting is working remotely, including weekends. 

When in district, Mr. Grotting is borrowing a vehicle; therefore, no rental vehicle is needed for travel to and from the airport or for in-district travel. He is not charging mileage to and from the airport, nor is he receiving any other district travel stipend. Because he is residing with his in-laws while in-district, there are no in-district lodging or meal expenses. Other out of district travel expenses (eg going to Salem for ODE or OMESC meetings) will be expensed at the approved district reimbursement rate that applies to all district employees. We do not anticipate such out of district meetings to occur often as these meetings will occur virtually whenever possible and appropriate. Lodging and meal reimbursement would only occur if he is required to stay overnight for out of district meetings; this is the contract language on lodging to which you allude.  

While Mr. Grotting is with the district, the position vacated by the interim superintendent is not being filled. Mr. Grotting is being expensed through the general fund.  Please understand that as with any organization’s  budget, unexpected situations occur that cause additional expenditures and, occasionally, unexpected revenue. Furthermore, various budgetary line items  may be underspent as well as overspent. At the end of the fiscal year, the goal is to stay within the approved and adopted budget. When this cannot be accomplished and in accordance with budget law, the Board or Business Manager in conjunction with the district leadership may elect to move funds from one line item or another or to use contingency funds. 

This elected volunteer board is very committed to students, families and patrons of all cultures in the Nyssa School District.  We acquired Mr. Grotting’s services on a temporary basis to assist us through this difficult transitional time. The Board understands and acknowledges the financial burden that exists due to the agreement completed with the departing superintendent and the current Migrant 1C program litigation. Mr. Grotting’s services and work with multiple stakeholders will expedite resolution of this litigation issue and help us move forward. 

The Board and district administration have shared responsibility for the district’s past and present governance and operations, to include the financial and litigation costs derived from governance and leadership decision making. The Board is committed to rectifying past mistakes and issues that have negatively impacted the district.

Together with our teachers, support staff, and administrators, we look forward to a new beginning, a great school year and to meeting the needs of Nyssa children and families of all cultures. Again, on behalf of myself and the Board, I invite you to visit our schools and attend our meetings. We are committed to building trust, providing transparency, and moving the district forward in a timely and positive manner as we meet the unique needs of our students, families and staff. 

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