School board: NW superintendent intimidated, berated staff in public

  • Parker Perry
  • Staff Writer
3:42 p.m Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 Community News

The Northwestern Superintendent can return to work on Feb. 1, following more than two months off the job.

Jesse Steiner was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 21 but had been paid to not report to work since Nov. 27.

READ MORE: Northwestern superintendent supporter: Investigation unfair

The Northwestern Board of Education met during a special board meeting Wednesday and voted unanimously on a resolution that says Steiner acted “overly aggressive, confrontational and abrasive” but that he can go back to work next month.

The Springfield News-Sun also obtained Wednesday a letter through a public records request from the board of education to Steiner that included information of the investigation against him.

Steiner declined to comment Wednesday.

The board began its investigation into Steiner’s conduct when allegations of unprofessional conduct surfaced, according to the letter.

“The investigator interviewed over 30 people, including you, to determine whether or not there was merit to the allegations … The investigation revealed that on numerous occasions you have acted in a verbally aggressive, intimidating and angry manner in your dealings with others in the workplace,” the letter says.

The letter doesn’t name who complained about Steiner. Alleged outbursts occurred in public where others witnessed them, the letter says.

MORE: 2 months and $20K later, Northwestern superintendent on leave

“The investigator informed us that this school year has had several notable reports of instances of you acting in an intimidating and angry manner at work,” it says. “We heard reports that you have been overly confrontational with employees and that you would ‘blow-up’ at them. We learned of reports that you would yell at, berate and become extremely agitated with employees if you believed they had not acted in accordance with your expectations.”

Steiner had been warned previously about how he deals with employees, the letter says, including in his 2016 and 2017 evaluations.

“At our June 2017 board meeting, we specifically counseled you about raising your voice to administrators and other staff members,” the letters says. “We advised you that we would not tolerate unprofessional treatment of our employees, regardless of the circumstances.”

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The board won’t put up with further incidents, the letter says, and Steiner could be terminated if he keeps it up.

Steiner also must complete a comprehensive mental examination and obtain competency, anger management counseling and leadership training. He also must meet with the board members on a monthly basis to discuss and review conduct and progress, and refrain from any retaliation against individuals who participated in the investigation.

The resolution approved by the school board echoed the letter.

“The investigation has been completed and the board has determined that Mr. Steiner did act on a number of occasions in a verbally aggressive, intimidating and angry manner toward others in the workplace,” the resolution says. “The board has determined that Mr. Steiner’s conduct is unacceptable, in violation of board policy and warrants formal discipline.”

Northwestern Board President Andy Gundolf declined comment on behalf of the entire board after the meeting.

PREVIOUSLY: No action taken in Northwestern superintendent investigation

Several supporters of Steiner attended previous meetings, calling the investigation a witch hunt. None of them attended Wednesday’s meeting and didn’t return requests for comment.

Parents and community residents expressed frustrations Wednesday that the school hadn’t released more detailed information about the investigation sooner.

“I don’t know what it is about and they won’t release anything and I think they should let the public know about it,” said Buddy Peyhet before the Springfield News-Sun obtained the letter.

Cathy Massie, who has a child enrolled at Northwestern, said if the board believes Steiner acted unprofessionally, they shouldn’t let him back in the school.

“He should suffer the consequences and pay the price,” she said.

There had been rumors swarming around the district about what happened, she said, and she was frustrated that she didn’t know what is going on.