Friday, October 24, 2014

Former Niles school chief accused of 'bullying'

Posted on March 15, 2014 at 2:06 p.m.

NILES -- Alleged “bullying behavior’’ by former Niles school Superintendent Richard Weigel was one of a number of accusations leveled against him by more than a dozen school administrators, leading to his resignation last month, as reported by the South Bend Tribune.

In response to Freedom of Information requests by the South Bend Tribune, the Niles schools on Friday released copies of documents pertaining to Weigel’s resignation. One document endorsed by 15 school principals and central-office administrators made reference to bullying “and the fear that goes along with it.’’

The Tribune isn’t listing the names of those who endorsed the letter because some of the names aren’t legible. Eric Delaporte, the school board’s attorney, wasn’t able to identify either all of the names on the document.

“We have made numerous attempts to get through to him (Weigel) on several issues to no avail,’’ the letter stated. “He is a poor listener and is only interested in his agenda. We are pawns to his personal goals for his own praise.

“We all see through this, and he has become a totally ineffective leader. We have no confidence in him or his leadership, and our spirit has been severely compromised,’’ the letter states.

The letter lists 22 specific complaints, one of which accuses Weigel of micromanaging, manipulating and undermining administrators’ decisions. Another allegation accuses him of building “a culture of fear and reprisal which has created an unnecessary divide among programs, buildings and peers who should be working together.’’ Another questions his focus.

“His focus is sporadic, and he does not prioritize according to the district’s needs. For example, curriculum during his tenure has been virtually ignored, except in areas in which he has a personal interest,’’ the letter states.

The document also mentions the departure of eight administrators since Weigel was named superintendent in 2010, a situation the letter refers to as “outrageous.’’

“He has bullied several administrators and has created a hostile environment, often using profanity and exhibiting highly unprofessional behavior,’’ the letter states.

The letter continues that “financial support is given to certain programs with no regard to others.’’ It adds also that “administrators’ evaluations were not completed’’ and, according to the accusation, perhaps falsified.

The letter concludes that Weigel’s actions have taken a toll on mental and physical health. It suggests that Weigel take a leave of absence, which he, in effect, did by taking sick leave prior to his resignation.

But the FOIA requests also yielded three letters of support for Weigel. In one, Bonnie Prenkert, a teacher at Eastside Elementary School, described Weigel as “a very focused and driven leader.’’

“He raises the bar high and as you achieve he continues to raise the bar. I also believe that he did the same for himself,’’ she wrote.

Prenkert added that Weigel “DID present challenges’’ but by accepting his demands, she became a better teacher and leader.

“He does not accept mediocrity and he wants each of us to excel,’’ she said.

Another letter of support signed Jerry Holtgren and Mike Vota, the principal and assistant principal, respectfully, at the New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy instituted by Weigel at Niles High School, describes Weigel as “a man of vision’’ who’s “far from a bully.’’ Instead, they wrote, he’s “a passionate leader.’’

“Dr. Weigel has created a culture of high expectation and we strive to meet these expectations knowing that our children at Niles schools are worth it,” they wrote. “Dr. Weigel does not accept mediocrity nor do we want to work for a superintendent who does.. We do not fear challenges. Instead, we embrace them and see results of reaching to meet Dr. Weigel’s expectations.’’

An attempt to reach Weigel Friday night was unsuccessful, as were earlier attempts to contact him while the school board dealt with the complaint. A separation agreement allows him to continue with the district as a consultant through the end of June, at which point he’ll receive a $115,000 contract buyout equal to one year’s salary.

The Tribune also sought in the FOI requests the school board’s legal costs leading up to Weigel’s resignation, which amounted to $13,279 for the month of February. A billing for March had yet to be received, the board said.

There has been no billing either for public relations firm services but the board stated it pays the company a flat rate of $3,500 a month plus expenses.

Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com.