WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 02, 2011, 08:38 AM

Frazee residents question superintendent's buyout offer

Frazee, Minn. (WDAY TV) - In Frazee, there is some turmoil between the school superintendent and a divided school board. A rift between board members and superintendent has produced a nearly $400-thousand dollar offer to buyout his contract and no one in town seems to know why.

Hank Ludke – Frazee Mayor: "I'm very unhappy. I left the meeting yesterday and I was shaking so bad and I was still shaking last night."

You'd think being the mayor you would know why the towns school board is offering 377-thousand dollars to buyout the superintendent's contract.

Hank Ludke: "I have no idea at this point."

But Hank Ludke is just another citizen when it comes to being in the dark about the issue.

James Jacobson: "What reasons you know?"

Debbie Tiffany – Lives Near Frazee: "I don't know what happened, what's the big stink."

Terry Harrison: "There's been a lot of closed door meetings."

At a Wednesday morning school board meeting, 4 Of 7 board members voted to offer Stender a 377-thousand dollar buyout for the remainder of his 3 year contract. Stender declined our request for an interview. So we called all 7-school board members. 4 also declined to talk to us. The others, our messages were not returned.

In the meeting the school board stated "It wanted to move on from Stender." But didn't offer any more explanation. Off camera, some tell us it's about a personality conflict. They say Stender was hired to get the budget in line, and has made some difficult and unpopular decisions along the way, including denying teacher raises.

Hank Ludke: "I look at something of this magnitude can undo everything that we've worked to do in the city for the last 10-years."

Ludke says the school district's budget is in better shape since Stender arrived 6-years ago. A big part of why he was hired. Now he's being mysteriously ousted by 4-board members.

The large buyout payment comes at a bad time when districts are already strapped for cash. All because of what Ludke calls "personal reasons."

Hank Ludke: "Whether you like him or not, he's done a good job."

All in all the process to buyout Stender could cost upwards of half a million dollars with legal fees and the salary of a new Superintendent. Money some say is a waste.

Hank Ludke: "What in the heck are you doing with our money?”

One school board member did call us back, but only reiterated they wanted to move on. A buyout was offered to Stender about a month ago, but because not all board members knew about it prior to the meeting, it was a violation of open meeting laws and taken off the table. Stender has 20-days to accept or reject the buyout.