Gerard staff voices concern

Published 10:39 am Tuesday, December 9, 2008

There were many new faces at the Austin School Board meeting Monday night, and they weren’t district employees.

In fact, they want no part in the Austin Public School District.

Staff from Gerard Treatment Academy, home to New Dominion School, attended the meeting to voice their opinion about the Austin district wanting to take over their school.

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New Dominion provides educational services at Gerard, established 40 years ago to serve challenging youth. Both are owned and operated by the Nexus family of treatment centers.

“It’s true there is some disagreement between Nexus and the Austin Public School District,” Kretta Menuey, an employee at New Dominion, told the school board.

Because New Dominion is housed within the Austin Public School District, it is the district’s legal responsibility. Therefore, if New Dominion is not in compliance for any reason, the district could be held responsible.

Recently, New Dominion’s principal left, leaving no one with the needed licensure.

Menuey, who spoke on behalf of Gerard, said the district taking over New Dominion “puts our brand and our uniqueness in jeopardy.”

She indicated such a transaction could impact the likelihood students would remain longer at the facility.

Menuey pleaded with the board to allow their staff to “remain employees of Gerard Academy.”

Interim superintendent Bruce Anderson said the district also wants to “be respectful,” and said he had visited their campus and met with the Nexus CEO and Gerard executive director.

“Part of my job is to set the table for the new superintendent,” Anderson said, explaining the district is “ultimately responsible legally for the school. It certainly is our goal … to meet the goals you folks have.”

However, he added, “the district cannot find itself vulnerable.”

Anderson said there is no concern for the remaining length of the semester “in terms of job safety, and we certainly hope that won’t be the case long-term.”

Anderson said last week the district wants to hire someone for New Dominion until at least July; a decision about who will remain their employer may be made after that time. The new superintendent at Austin Public Schools is scheduled to assume duties July 1.

Austin Public Schools has posted online a position for “special services supervisor” for New Dominion, with a director of special education license as a job requirement. The deadline for applications is Monday.

Gerard employs more than 129 people and provides residential treatment for boys and girls ages 6 to their 19th birthday. It is located at 1111 28th. St. N.E. at the former Jay C. Hormel mansion.