Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt publicly expressed frustration Friday over the way the Nebraska State Board of Education was handling the renewal of his employment contract, telling board members that he felt he was excluded from the process.
He commented during the monthly meeting of the board at the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.
“It’s uncomfortable for me to sit here while you talk about me without me,” Blomstedt said. “I will say, and I do feel, as if I’ve not been in the process at this point in time. So, you all are agreeing to an offer that I have yet to consider.”
The comments were a rare display of emotion for Blomstedt, a self-deprecating consensus-builder with a steady demeanor.
Since taking the job in 2014, his contract renewals have been uneventful, punctuated with atta-boys from board members for a job well done.
This time, board members offered motions and counter motions over the proposed new contract that would have given him a pay raise and set performance goals. Unable to reach agreement when first brought up in the meeting, they postponed consideration until later in the meeting.
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After completing other business items on the agenda, they adjourned to closed session for more than an hour to discuss it again.
They returned to open session to discuss it more. Then they rejected a motion to table it until their next meeting.
Finally, a motion to adopt the contract changes failed, 3-5.
Voting in favor were Deborah Neary, Robin Stevens and Jacquelyn Morrison. Against were Lisa Fricke, Maureen Nickels, Kirk Penner, Patti Gubbels and Patsy Koch Johns.
Because no action was taken, Blomstedt remains on his existing contract. That contract, approved last year, was for three years, running from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2024. His salary for the current fiscal year is $237,273. Under the current contract, that was already going to increase to $242,019 for the year starting July 1.
The proposed change would have raised it even more to $246,764.
It wasn’t clear why board members struggled to come to agreement.
The money didn’t appear to be the issue.
Rather, it appeared to be partly a disagreement over the set of performance goals but also a concern that the proposed contract terms were reached by a committee without input from other board members.
The committee proposed an eight-page list of “performance standards, indicators and targets.” The listed goals ranged from leading with dignity and respect to encouraging high expectations for student achievement.
Morrison expressed concern that not all board members had a chance to give input.
“Right now, it’s not feeling like it’s very collaborative,” she said.
She wanted more discussion, particularly on how the committee arrived at the proposal.
“I would like to hear the thought process of how you got to that.”
She questioned whether the goals were measurable and attainable.
Stevens made a motion to go forward with approval, but it went nowhere.
During the meeting, Blomstedt sat listening to several minutes of the back-and-forth about whether the agenda was worded properly on the proposal, jockeying over motions, clarification of motions, and whether an executive session was needed, before he weighed in with obvious frustration.
“I’m gonna be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t think I’m where I want to be with you, and I don’t think we’re going to get there in this type of conversation.”
He said it was difficult to “sit here and watch the board struggle … I don’t want that. I actually feel guilty, like it’s my fault. Actually I don’t think it’s my fault.”
Blomstedt told board members that they didn’t have to rush to approve a new contract. He said he would be willing to delay any changes until August while the board worked on a contract that he and the board could agree on.
He also said, “I’m not walking away from this job.”
“I’m here for you, and I’m here for the state of Nebraska, to do my job as effectively as I can,” Blomstedt said. “I can’t do that … unless you can figure out how to work with me on that very point.”
When Blomstedt was done, Fricke responded, “Thank you for your candor. That shows leadership.”
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