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Des Moines school board continues to operate in the dark

By   /   March 13, 2013  /   5 Comments

DMPS Board-meeting

CHOICES: While school board members were unable to present a united front about the person finally selected for superintendent, they were and remain unified in their commitment to keeping their deliberations and the selection process a secret.

By Graham Gillette | Special Contributor to Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES — When the Des Moines School Board began its search for a new superintendent in May, district spokesman Phil Roeder advised the board to present a united front to the public and to applicants.

Only the board president should speak to the media, and bold and robust board conversations should be held internally, he urged. He told them to keep things behind closed doors.

Boy, did they.

While the board was unable to present a united front about the person finally selected, it remains unified in its commitment to keeping deliberations and the selection process a secret.

You would think they would have learned from their mishandling of former Superintendent Nancy Sebring’s departure, in which then board president Teree Caldwell-Johnson lied on camera as to why the superintendent was leaving. She said Sebring needed more time to prepare for her new job in Omaha when, in fact, she resigned after board members discovered sexually explicit emails sent on her district address and computer.

Caldwell-Johnson refused Tuesday to explain her vote on a new superintendent Tom Ahart’s contract. She didn’t speak during the public meeting, where the vote was taken.

When asked about why she voted no, and for her thoughts on the selection process, Caldwell-Johnson offered one of the strangest responses from a public official I have ever heard: “I’m not really at liberty to discuss (my vote) with you. I had my conversation with Mr. Ahart about why I voted the way I did. That’s who I needed to share that information with, not the media.”

No, Ms. Caldwell-Johnson, you represent the people of Des Moines. You owe them an explanation even more than the one you thought you owed Ahart.

The board’s shameful unwillingness to include the public in the selection process of the highest paid superintendent Des Moines has ever seen — $260,000 plus an impressive benefits package — should trouble supporters and detractors of Ahart alike.

Last week, board president Dick Murphy and three board members held a news conference to announce the selection of Ahart and disclose the final details of his contract, including his salary. The board had never met in public to discuss, let alone vote, on any of this. The only way they could have decided Ahart was the new superintendent and details about his contract was to discuss all of this in secret.

The Des Moines board not only abused the intent of Iowa’s public meeting law, they flagrantly broke it.

When addressing the board last May, Roeder said, “There’s nobody that’s going to tell you this time around that you’re doing it right or wrong. It’s self-policing.”

It appears the board believes self-policing and a complete disregard of the public process are one and the same.

The board violated the law when it decided in private about who to hire as superintendent and what to pay him. Ahart should refuse to sign the contract. If the contract is executed, it should be struck down by the court as improper.



Sheena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Bman

    They should be held accountable for improper procedure of hiring, and implementing salary for the position of superintendent. and It should be shot down by the courts. and all involved be removed from from the school board.
    It seems school boards, principals, and teachers forget who is signing the checks.

  • Huxley99

    Get the Polk County DA involved. He/she could make a name for themself.

  • carol Tiernan Williams

    My name is CAROLANN TIERNAN-WILLIAMS and I am a south sider in Des Moines. Also I am a parent, grandparent, Community Member and stakeholder in the DES MOINES INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT.

    I attended the Meet & Greet last evening and decided that it may not be an appropriate time to approach. I plan on attending this evening as well but also probably will not express my thoughts at that time.

    I would like to say that I hope your time here has been welcoming and insightful. I hope that you both have been treated well.

    With that said, I would like to say that I am not liked by many Board Members as I have taken them to task on Issues that they have ignored by the Masses of Community Members here in Des Moines.

    Board Members…..Teree Caldwell Johnson and Pat Sweeney are THE ONLY 2 BOARD MEMBERS that seem to take their elected jobs serious and are constant in trying to do the right thing by All but, are over-ruled and dominated by the rest of the Board, who to most are SELF SERVING, BOARDERLINE RASIST, NON OBJECTIONAL MEMBERS, who need to be voted off or fired from their positions.
    Leading the RAT PACK would be CONNIE BOESEN and the 1st person needed to be replaced. She dominates that Board…..and she will dominate You as well.
    Connie Boesen has expressed to me that SHE and the Board will be your Boss and thus you will conform to what they decide.

    Thomas Ahert has done that all along, throughout his stint as INTERUM SUPERINTENDENT……HE IS KNOWN AS THE “PUPPET” and they pull his strings…… therefore, many people do not think they will allow ANYONE but him to take this job…….he is already trained.

    Please know…….POLICIES-PROCEDURES-HANDBOOKS-LAWS….mean nothing to those Board Members…..they rule the way they feel suites them alone, they make up rules and laws to suite their needs, they have no concern for COMMUNITY or STUDENT/PARENT INPUT, School needs/wants are dismissed when expressed……there are 4 Board Members who run the ENTIRE SHOW.

    Scott Mikkish, Phil Rhoder, AMANDA EASTON….. ignore any Public request, complaint and refuse to respond to any and all correspondence to them. THEY hang up telephones, threaten harassment and are the rudest I and other Community Members have ever experienced.
    AND THERE IS NOBODY TO COMPLAIN TOO about such treatment.
    This whole OPERATION is ran like a “members only secret club”………………

    THIS IS JUST THE TIP OF THE DES MOINES ICEBURG that you both entering upon.

    I am 57 year old Italian Parent, grandparent. I have lived in the same Community for 57 years…..THIS School Board is by far the worst Board I and others have ever seen.
    They are the demise of Poor Grades, Dropout Rates, our Schools, hence, our Communities.

    Note: you will be inheriting LAWSUITS such as SEBRING CASE, GILLETTE, MIHALOVICH and other pending lawsuits against the school board.


    thank you,


  • Guest

    You need a life.

  • John Richardson

    Seriously carol, you clearly have profound mental issues and pose a threat to others. I can say this with confidence because just today we read about your being criminally charged with harassing a female attached to the school district, despite repeated warnings from law enforcement, and in your mugshot, you’re smiling like a deranged person. Something tells me you’ll be arrested again before this is over, hopefully you’ll be stopped before you hurt someone.