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St. Joseph School Board Shows Confidence In Superintendent, Extends Contract

Sam Zeff

Just a week after being served with a sixth federal grand jury subpoena, the embattled St. Joseph School District gave interim Superintendent Robert Newhart a vote of confidence by tacking two years onto his contract Monday night.

In addition to a little more job security and more money, the board of education also decided to drop interim from his title.

Newhart will continue to make his current salary of $174,500 through June 2017. His pay could then go as high as $181,480 for the 2017-2018 school year depending on how big a raise the board wants to give him.

“Dr. Newhart has proven he can make tough decisions and has tackled extremely difficult projects since July,” board president Brad Haggard said in a statement. "It hasn’t been easy and we recognize our district needs his strong leadership at this critical time."

Newhart's contract is modest compared to his predecessor. Fred Czerwonka, who was fired after the district was hammered in a state audit report, was paid $190,000 a year, $500 a for a car allowance and a $12,000 yearly tax-sheltered annuity.

Newhart has none of the perks that superintendents in districts the size of St. Joseph usually enjoy in their contracts. St. Joseph is the state's 16th biggest district with 11,000 students.

"Robert is a breath of fresh air," says board member Chris Danford who had epic battles with Czerwonka. "He's got a solid understanding of school finance, budgets and facilities and very thoughtful in problem solving and able to make the hard decisions."

The vote in executive session Monday night was 6-1. Only board member Lori Prussman voted no.

Newhart was hired in July. This is by far his biggest job. He left the tiny Princeton, Missouri school district about an hour from St. Joseph. Before Princeton he was in Lexington, Missouri and Polo, Missouri. He's never lead a district with more than 800 students until now.

Newhart and the district still face plenty of problems. The FBI investigation continues, part of the district's property tax levy sunsetted this year and many patrons and staff still have a lack of confidence in the board and administration.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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