Olivia Mandilk, the district's director of the Student Services Department for the last eight and a half years, will no longer hold her current post after the end of the school year, but will be reassigned within the district, said Mr. Ghysels.
Board President Terry Thygesen said the board voted unanimously in closed session to approve Mr. Ghysels' recommended change in the department's leadership.
Ms. Mandilk, members of her staff, and a number of parents whose children are or have been served by the department attended the emotional meeting, speaking during the public comment period before the board went into closed session to make its decision.
Most speakers supported Ms. Mandilk's leadership of the department, which provides instruction and other services for students with developmental and other disabilities and special health needs. But two parents encouraged the board to support the change, saying Ms. Mandilk and most of the department staff were unresponsive to the needs of some children in the program and resisted parents' attempts to communicate and work for improvements.
During the comment period, there were some tears on the part of Student Services staff who showed up to support their boss, and applause from the audience, mostly by Ms. Mandilk's supporters. But high drama prevailed when Ms. Mandilk expanded the discussion of her dismissal to Superintendent Ghysels' leadership.
Holding up photocopied images of leadership staff members who have left their jobs since Mr. Ghysels came on board, she spoke of each departure or extended sick leave, alleging they were the result of the superintendent's bullying and other forms of mistreatment. Six of 12 members of the district's leadership team, she said, were "targeted victims" of Mr. Ghysels' "unprofessional conduct and bullying behavior" before they either agreed to retire or became too ill to continue working.
Responding to the comments, Mr. Ghysels said the next day: "It's hard to be a leader and make difficult personnel decisions. I know that people are not always going to be happy with those decisions." He said he wouldn't comment on the charges of bullying.
"I want to make sure that parents and their kids rest assured that we're going to continue to provide outstanding service" in the program, he told the Almanac.
In response to Ms. Mandilk's accusations, board President Thygesen told the Almanac: "I am fully confident that Dr. Ghysels is leading our district effectively."
Ms. Mandilk told the Almanac before last week's meeting that she had received no warning or indication that her job performance was a problem before Mr. Ghysels called her into his office on Feb. 22 and told her that he and the school board want to "change the direction" of the program she leads.
She said she was offered three options: to retire, to resign, or to request a teaching position if something becomes available. "I can't afford options one or two, so I selected option three," she said, adding that in addition to work in the special education department she is also credentialed to teach social sciences at Hillview Middle School. She won't know whether there will be a job for her for months, she said.
To retire now, she added, would mean "financial disaster" because she will be only 59 by the end of the school year, and retiring before she's 61 or 62 would shrink her pension by about $36,000 a year.
After Ms. Mandilk's comments during the board meeting, Ms. Thygesen told those present that board members are restricted by law from commenting on personnel matters.
Mr. Ghysels said he wanted parents to be assured that services for their children will continue even as the direction of the program shifts — a direction "based on collaboration" that will involve teachers and staff.