It's been a month since Havre Public Schools Superintendent Dave Mahon resigned his post due to personal reasons, and the community still doesn't have a straight answer as to why. Hired in March, beginning in July, Mahon lasted only seven months on the job before an abrupt announcement was made that he tenured his letter of resignation and a unanimous vote by school trustees occurred to approve its acceptance. What wasn't discussed in the meeting, and what came out later, is that Mahon is being paid the remainder of this year's salary, plus an additional $97,000 broken into three payments. Nowhere in his contract does it specify that Mahon is entitled to extra salary, or any salary for that matter, after the effective date of his resignation. Anytime the upcoming year's budget is discussed, it's clear that the high school will suffer because of lower enrollment numbers and that mill levies will most likely have to be approved by the voters to maintain programs and staff. Yet, a resigned superintendent is being paid for time not worked. The clear loser in this situation is the students. Not only are they losing valuable and scarce funding to equip them for the future, but they are learning a bad lesson from the trustees who are supposed to hold students' best interests and the rules of democracy above all else. Trustees have refused to answer specific questions. Those who were reachable gave terse answers or none at all. None of those people reached elaborated on their reasons for accepting the resignation of the head of the district in the middle of the school year. All who returned calls referred questions to board Chairperson Shad Huston who has remained equally mum to the press, and everyone else in the community as far as we know, citing Mahon's "personal reasons" as exempting the board from any elaboration. It can be argued, however, that as the head of the district, Mahon has less of a right to privacy than a teacher or a maintenance worker would in a similar situation. It's not always easy to be a public official and definitely not easy to be one when tough decisions are made. But it's during those very decisions that trustees must uphold the tenants of democracy. At the same time, it's incumbent upon the taxpayers and residents of the community to demand that their representatives take responsibility for decisions made on their behalf. On the surface, the situation looks like the classic "we'll pay you this if you don't say this or sue us scenario." No one knows. And no one's talking. As a consequence some bizarre rumors are floating around. Hopefully, none are true, but each is equally sensational. Regardless of the reason that Mahon resigned and parents and taxpayers are paying him beyond his service, trustees need to be specific about the decision they made. Not to do so flies in the face of democratic and transparent government that must triumph for our society to function. Students, parents, teachers and community members deserve better, and they know it. The vibe on the street is not a positive one. The effects of those negative and confused feelings could be devastating in a time when budgets are tight and taxpayers might be less inclined to support more money for schools when they are unsure how trustees are spending what they already have. Revealing the reason of Mahon's severance package and the trustees' decision to approve it won't be as damaging as maintaining the current silence that is eroding the community's trust in the school system.
It's time for school trustees to answer questions
Published: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
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