In front of what one board member described as a “tsunami of support” the Salina USD 305 Board of Education, by a 5-2 decision, voted down a motion that would have non-renewed a long-time teacher from Salina Central High School’s contract. The action, had it been approved, would have essentially fired her.
A standing room only, raucous crowd of supporters showed up at the regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday evening in support of Karen Abker, an English teacher at Central. Among those in the crowd were current and former students, parents, teachers from around the district, and even former board members.
Abker has been teaching English for 26 years. Sixteen of those years have been at Central.
Before discussing the issue, the board went into executive session. Following the executive session the public was given 10 minutes to speak. Board President Johnna Vosseller cautioned that the issue was a personnel matter, and that the specifics of why the non-renewal was on the agenda could not be publicly discussed.
Salina Orthodontist Dr. Cindy Reed spoke, as did former student Jamie Hawley.
Reed said that she was speaking on behalf of over 300 other people, including hundreds of students who had signed a document in support of their teacher. She spoke highly of Abker, and read numerous comments on behalf of others. Hawley, a former student who now attends the University of Kansas, spoke passionately about the impact Abker has had on her life, and on other student’s lives.
Board member Carol Brandert then spoke. She said that this is a policy issue, and normally making policy exceptions is not wise. But in this case termination is not in the best interest of the community. She said that there could be some other form of discipline, if it is warranted. And she also indicated that perhaps the district needs to re-examine the policy.
Board member Nedra Elbl said that she has received a “tsunami of letters and phone calls” in support of Abker. She said that district policy should be flexible and fluid, positive and ethical.
Vosseller said that in her mind it wasn’t a policy issue, but rather a negotiated contract issue that was in question.
Ultimately the board voted 5 – 2 to defeat the motion that would have denied Abker a contact renewal. Vosseller and board member Ramona Newson cast the two dissenting votes.
The crowd erupted into a loud, long, standing ovation of applause when the final vote was taken and it was determined that Abker would not be fired.
Dr. Cindy Reed’s Speech:
Jamie Hawley’s Speech: