With his departure now imminent, USD 413 Superintendent Kellen Adams said the future of the district may hinge on the November election.
Public forum speakers vehemently opposed to the district’s lack of a transgender policy have threatened upheaval, telling the board that they plan on replacing members with those aligned to their singular focus of forcing policy change in regard to the issue.
While members’ terms are staggered for election cycles, the upcoming November election could bring significant change with five seats coming open. Typically, either three or four seats are up for election.
Of those five, Ross Hendrickson said he does not plan to seek re-election, while Scott McKinney openly questioned his future viability in the elected role during Monday’s meeting. McKinney is the shortest-tenured member, but would have to seek re-election in November since he filled a vacant seat midterm last year.
Both Hendrickson and McKinney are the lone board members that have publicly expressed their support for a district policy that bans transgender students from their preferred restrooms, locker rooms and sports teams of choice.
Also up for re-election are Jeff Caldwell, Cassie Cleaver and board president Brad LaRue. None have publicly commented on their re-election plans.
Adams told The Tribune that he’s concerned the board could shift in a manner that is detrimental to the district.
“There is definitely the potential for the board to dramatically swing from its general tenor,” Adams told The Tribune, adding that such a change would be harmful to the district’s “Students First” motto.
Adams sees no reason to not take the public forum threats seriously.
“If those statements hold true, you could have several of those individuals running for the board,” he said.
Adams has multiple concerns in relation to the comments lobbed during recent public forums about the upcoming election.
“Individuals running for a specific issue are not running for the right reasons,” he said. “If you’re going to run for the board of education, you need to run for what’s in the best interest of all kids and what’s in the best interest of the district.”
The presence of transgender students in the district and the board’s corresponding response has drawn the ire of public forum speakers, which have largely been the same handful of individuals airing the same grievances.
“If you’re just running to solve the bathroom-policy issue, or whatever hot-button issue comes up next, then you are running for the wrong reasons, Adams said. “When board members catch this heat day after day, they eventually say it’s not worth it. The concern is that you’re going to start running off really good people that are currently serving, or who might be interested in serving. Then all of a sudden we have a board made up of nothing but people who are representing special interests and not the best interests of the students. My second concern is running off some really well-meaning people that are currently serving.”
Adams referenced McKinney’s speech Monday night, in which he made a motion for restrictive transgender policy. The motion died due to a lack of a second.
“Scott’s speech said it all to me,” Adams said. “He is tired, and you can see that and hear it from him.”
While Adams said that he views McKinney as being positioned with the public forum speakers, he also believes he sought to fill the vacant seat for the correct reasons.
Adams added that public forum speakers may have been in contact with McKinney prior to his motion Monday night.
“I’m going to guess that several of the people who have been speaking have likely spoken to Scott at some point before,” he said. “I don’t know that for a fact, but that assumption is certainly valid.”
Leavenworth USD 453 approved Adams’ employment as the district’s next superintendent at its BOE meeting Monday night. The initial two-year contract will pay Adams $180,000 annually.
Adams said that neither the threats of election-cycle upheaval nor the manner in which he had been treated by public forum speakers factored into his decision to seek a new employer.
“Leavenworth presented a chance for our family to continue progressing with our careers,” he said.
Adams was issued a public apology by LaRue on behalf of the board during a censure of public forum speakers for distasteful comments.
“There is a certain amount of heat that just comes naturally when you are in this position as superintendent,” he said. “You could say that I was disrespected, but in the grand scheme, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”
While Adams said that such commentary comes with the territory, he believes that the board was correct in its decision to censure and draw a line.
“If we allow that for me, or others, where do we draw the line?” he asked. “What happens next time when personal shots are fired at teachers or principals? In order to maintain a level of professionalism, we had to draw a line.”
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