Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board renews most HSE administrator contracts


Renewing contracts for school administrators is usually routine, but it became contentious in the days leading up to the June 14 Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of Trustees meeting. 

Contract renewals were listed on the June draft agenda, which was released a month prior to the actual meeting. But administrators were told the day before the meeting that those with two-year contracts would not be renewed as scheduled. The community’s response was swift online and through social media. 

Dawn Lang

In the end, all but five of the HSE school district’s two-year administrator contracts were renewed in a unanimous vote. An amendment to include those five contracts in the final vote failed 3-4 with board members Ben Orr, Tiffany Pascoe, Juanita Albright and Dawn Lang voting no. 

The five administrator contracts that were not yet renewed were redacted on the board document available online. A comparison of that document to individual contracts listed on the district’s website shows that the missing names are Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Dowling, annual salary of $153,165.12; Chief Operating Officer Jimmie Lake ($149,691.96); Matthew Kegley, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning ($154,945); Kimberly Lippe, assistant superintendent of staff and student services ($151,195); and Rosalie Nataki Pettigrew, chief equity and inclusion officer ($102,468).

The board heard from a handful of constituents before the vote who were critical of the board’s actions regarding administrator contracts. 

Parent Laura Cole said administrators are the glue holding the district together. She was happy that most of the contracts were back on the agenda for approval, but said elected officials need to consider their actions carefully, and whether they are doing more harm than good. 

Abby Taylor from the HSE Education Association said she had received numerous emails from educators in the district worried about their professional futures. 

“The concern about not having their administrators makes teachers unhappy and makes them want to leave,” she said, adding that the board’s actions disrupted the entire district. “We depend on you. Please do the right thing.”

Jocelyn Vare, a Fishers City Council member, suggested the board look inward for ways to improve. 

“I’m simply asking you to look in the mirror,” she said “Check yourself. Tidy up and let’s work together.”

Administrator contracts were on the consent agenda, which usually is a collection of uncontroversial items that a board approves unanimously in one vote without discussion. However, Board President Dawn Lang chose to have a vote on each of the six consent agenda items. 

The first five passed unanimously with no discussion. The sixth was the contracts. Orr said he wanted to “give some clarity” about what had happened over the past 36 hours. 

Orr said he and three other board members elected in November are still learning how things work in a school district. He said when he saw that the two-year contracts were expiring in 2024, he didn’t understand why they would be renewed a year early, which is why he wanted to postpone that vote. 

“I said, ‘Let’s make sure we take care of the contracts that are expiring,’” he said. “We should renew all the contracts that are up for renewal (this year). We can wait to look at others that are further down the road.”

Orr said he didn’t know that it was traditional to renew two-year contracts at the midpoint. He said he’s “still not thrilled” about the practice, but he’s learning. 

Lang said the board had no details about individual contracts until June 8.

“So, five days preparation,” she said. “Last Friday until today was our time to go through every contract.”

Lang said the board never planned to not renew contracts. Some members simply wanted to postpone the vote, particularly because the contracts total about $20 million. 

“We’re trying to be good tax stewards,” she said. “I can say, we could have done this much better. But know without a doubt that we value all employees.”

Board Member Sarah Donsbach made the amendment to include all of the two-year contracts, instead of leaving five for future consideration. She said four of those five administrators are crucial to the school district’s planned tax referendum, which likely will go before voters in November. Donsbach said it’s not fair to exclude them from the list of contract renewals and then ask them to go above and beyond in their work for the district. 

Sarah Parks Reese

Board Member Sarah Parks-Reese seconded the amendment. She added that the board had a month to ask questions, and members should have done their due diligence earlier. She noted that the more recently elected members also could have asked board members with more experience about how contract renewals worked. 

When asked by email why the five contracts were not included in the June 14 vote, Lang said: “I requested that the five administrators who’s (sic) contracts were not voted for be tabled for a future board meeting so that we have time to discuss between the board and admin leaders. There were many questions raised between the board and admin about the district contracting process, which yielded even more questions as a result. The board is simply requesting more time to discuss and review before bringing forward for a vote.”

The five contracts are not currently on the draft agenda for the HSE Board of Trustees’ July 12 meeting. 

The board has an executive session set for 6 p.m. June 28 to discuss performance evaluations. The employees to be discussed are not named.