Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Though mid-terms were still roughly a month off, Susan couldn’t help but think of them being over and the trip with Mizuki, and more than just for the playtimes they were planning. While the issue of what college to choose was slowly falling into place, Susan had the more-than-vague feeling that she was missing something important. Perhaps the campus visits would settle the matter, and while the trip with Mizuki promised to be fun, there was the good chance that the real purpose of the trip would be more valuable.
Still, Susan thought about it on the way home from Riverside that evening. Twice she had to stomp on the brakes to avoid hitting deer. It was getting to be the season when they were more active, and the time she was on the road between Riverside and Spearfish Lake was when they were moving most. Car-deer accidents were common in the area, and Susan didn’t want to mess up the Cavalier by hitting one.
After barely managing to miss the second – Susan swore she was going to have to clean the deer crap off of her outside rear-view mirror – she slowed down to considerably under the speed limit and continued to mull over the question. Somewhere on the slow drive the rest of the way home, what seemed like a good idea crossed her mind: Myleigh had straightened out her thinking on the issue once before. Perhaps it would be a good idea to run the revised idea past her again, just for an independent opinion.
So, on Saturday morning Susan called Myleigh again and asked if she could come see her. “Why, of course,” the Weatherford professor replied. “It should be this morning, since Trey and I are to go sailing upon the waters with Randy and Nicole this afternoon. The season for that is waning, and Randy wishes to soon initiate preparations to store the boat for the winter. Trey is doing yard work this morning, so we would not be disturbed.”
“I’ll be right over,” Susan replied. “I really don’t think this will take too long.”
“Oh, we can take the time we need, within reason,” Myleigh said.
In a few minutes Susan and Myleigh were sitting on Myleigh’s back porch, each holding cups of tea and watching Myleigh’s husband at work with a rake. “Basically, I want to see if you can pick any holes in my thinking on this,” Susan said. She then proceeded to give Myleigh a fairly detailed account of the colleges she was thinking about and the reasons for and against them, much as she had done with Mizuki a couple days before, and included a couple of points that Mizuki had brought up. Myleigh questioned her on a few points, if only to get a better idea of what her thinking on the subject was.
Finally, Susan reached the end of her list. “So,” she asked, “what do you think?”
“Well, first I must say that I’m a little disappointed that you have ranked Weatherford so low,” Myleigh told her, “although I suspect I can understand your reasoning in wishing to do so. I understand that you like your parents, but wish to loosen the apron strings a little, so that much is laudable. I confess my decision on where to attend undergraduate school was based entirely on economics and the desire to place as much distance between my parents and myself as I could afford. I’m not the first person to do that, of course; although I have to say that your brother’s girlfriend was the most extreme example of that I ever heard.”
“University of Alaska, Fairbanks,” Susan grinned. “You can’t get much more extreme than that. Even Germany would be closer. Then as soon as her mother showed up there, she transferred down to Florida somewhere. That gave her mother the message, and the next fall she joined Henry at Central.”
“That was the story Randy told me,” Myleigh laughed. “Your situation is of course different, and for the most part I agree with your reasoning that Weatherford is a little close for what you want to do, but please do not reject it for just that reason. As to the others, I really cannot fault your reasoning. Michigan State sounds like a very good place for you, but, as you say, getting accepted could be a problem. I would, however, point out that you might wish to give a little more attention to Southern Michigan, mostly because it is new and flexible and innovative. There is a certain excitement in being a part of something being built, rather than just being maintained. Though they probably would not be interested in my specialties, I cannot help but wonder if there might not be a special thrill in teaching there, just for that reason.”
“I’ve picked up some of that,” Susan admitted. “My friend who wants to go there is particularly interested in that angle, and I have to think she has a point. The problem is the money. On the surface it’s not a lot more expensive than the other state schools, including State itself, but when you figure in the fact that they don’t have much of a financial aid package, then some of the shine goes away. Don’t get me wrong, I could cover the difference with student loans. It might be worth the trouble of dealing with them to go to State just since the name is so recognizable, but I’m having trouble selling myself on doing it to go anywhere else I’m likely to be accepted.”
“That’s not a good attitude to have,” Myleigh told her. “Pick the place that is best for you in the long run. I’m not saying that you not heed the financial aspects, for they are indeed important, but there are other options open where at least some of the differences might be mitigated. I would especially urge you to investigate grant and scholarship programs. There are some interesting ones that are not well known. For instance, I sit on a board that distributes scholarships and grants from the Jennifer Walworth Foundation. That would not be of much use to you, for they are entirely aimed at students with an interest in the arts, specifically music.”
“I didn’t know that. I know she has money, but I had no idea she used it for that.”
“I must admit we’ve never awarded a scholarship to a student from Spearfish Lake,” Myleigh shrugged. “But it’s not surprising. Qualifying students have to demonstrate both financial need and rare talent, and there has never been anyone from here in music who qualifies. But there are other programs out there, and from my position I have a little influence here and there. Would you mind greatly if I were to make a few discreet inquiries about possibilities?”
“I would be grateful. When you get right down to it, the difference between what I can afford and what I can’t isn’t all that much, but over the three years I’ll have remaining in college, maybe four depending on some programs, it could add up real fast. Something to bridge that gap would be wonderful.”
“I’m afraid that I cannot promise anything, but I shall do what I can to speak a kind word in the right places. In any case, you should investigate the field and apply for anything you can find that remotely meets the required criteria. I can tell you from personal experience that two hundred dollars here and five hundred there starts to add up after a while.”
Susan got a grin of her own. “I can do that,” she said. “Thank goodness for the Internet.”
“Yes indeed. It is amazing how it has changed things in a matter of only a few years. It was not long ago that I was squeezing every penny I could find and applying for every grant I heard about, and being able to search online only became a reality as my penurious period was ending. Had I been but a few years younger things could have been considerably different.”
They talked about a few more angles to the question, and Susan felt she had picked up some useful ideas. “I suppose I really ought to be going,” she said finally, “but once again, it’s been good to talk some of these things over with you.”
“Feel free to approach me with such questions at any time,” Myleigh assured her. “My advice may prove to be worth only what you pay for it, but I’m pleased to be asked.”
It was another nice afternoon, and it was getting to be the time of year when those were getting increasingly rare. From the deck on her house, where Susan was in the nude catching some of the last sun she would probably enjoy this year, she could see trees starting to turn color; those that hadn’t were looking like it wouldn’t be much longer. Off in the distance she could see a little piece of the lake, and one time when she looked carefully she could see a sailboat out on it. It was probably Myleigh and her husband and friends, she figured; there weren’t a lot of sailboats on the lake, and most of the pleasure boats had been taken out after Labor Day.
As she watched, she realized that two big things had resulted from the discussion with Myleigh – Southern had moved up on her list a notch, maybe to a point fairly even with Grand Valley. The idea of being part of something new and innovative was intriguing and deserved more thought. The other thing that came clear was that Albburg had probably slid down the list even more; it seemed likely that grants and scholarships might not apply to foreign schools. That wasn’t saying it was entirely out of contention, but it somehow seemed much more distant.
More and more it seemed as if a campus visit to the three schools really in contention, State, Grand Valley, and Southern, was a good idea and might solve some issues. In addition, being able to do the trip with Mizuki seemed like it would make it worth the effort all by itself.
When Monday rolled around, Susan had the usual junior reporter tasks to do at the Record-Herald. By now she was getting used to them and could do them more efficiently. That was good, because her mind was more and more on the school board meeting that evening. There had been considerable talk around town, and there had been more letters to the editor come in, so it looked as if this meeting was going to be one to remember.
Susan’s suspicions were confirmed when she and both of her parents showed up for the meeting. Her father had warned that they might want to get there early to be sure of getting good seats, and that proved to be good thinking. They were there plenty early, and the parking lot was already pretty full. They got inside to discover that the meeting had been moved from the library where it was normally held to the larger cafeteria, so it was pretty clear to someone that there was going to be a fairly good crowd show up.
It was Susan’s first time in the high school building since she’d marched out on the first morning of classes. Although she knew that she was still listed as a student there, she didn’t feel like one, and the building felt foreign to her. Not counting the few minutes in Mr. Delahayne’s class a few weeks before it had been over a year since she’d attended a class there, and it really seemed like something out of her past.
They got seats close to the front of the room, since if the big crowd they were expecting showed up it would be easier there to hear and understand what was said. And it looked like a big crowd was coming; as Susan looked around the room was filling up, and before the meeting started people were standing around the edge of it. Battle and Rickenbaugh were there early, mostly standing around and talking with people in small groups, though at enough distance Susan couldn’t make out what was being said. As the meeting time approached they took their seats at the long tables at the front of the room, and the other board members with the exception of Aho soon joined them.
Only a minute before the meeting was to start, Aho and the superintendent walked into the room. It was the first time that Susan had actually laid eyes on Gingrich, although she’d seen photos of him; in person, she had the impression of a small weasel with thinning black hair. Susan had been to a couple of board meetings in the distant past, and knew that the superintendent always sat at the center of the board table, although he didn’t have a vote. As Gingrich and Aho took their seats next to each other at the center of the row of tables, the noise level in the place increased, although not much in the way of actual words could be heard. Susan had never wondered what a lynch mob must have been like, but suspected that it must have been pretty close to this.
Aho had to bang on the gavel several times to get people’s attention, and the room quieted down only slowly. “Call the meeting to order,” he finally said. “Roll call shows all members present. The first item is setting the agenda. Do any of the members have anything to add to the agenda?”
“Yes,” Battle spoke up. “Review of the superintendent’s contract, to be placed under Personnel and Staffing.”
Now Gingrich spoke for the first time. “I don’t think that is in order,” he said firmly.
“Reviews of contracts are always in order,” Battle retorted. “It’s always the way it’s been done on this board and I see no reason to change it now.”
“In that case,” Gingrich said. “I have to inform you that I am not prepared to discuss my contract at this time.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Battle snorted. “We are.”
“I think adequate time should be allowed to Mr. Gingrich to prepare for this so it can be discussed at a future meeting,” Aho submitted. His suggestion was met by an angry murmur from the crowd, now sounding even more like a lynch mob to Susan.
“Due to provisions in the contract it needs to be discussed tonight,” Battle said. “I call the question.”
“Calling the question” was a procedural bomb dropped into the meeting, and while not everyone in the room may have been aware of its power and intent, the board members were. It meant that all discussion of the item had to cease and an immediate vote be taken on whether to end the discussion.
“Very well,” Aho sighed, showing that he understood the full meaning. “I ask for a show of hands on calling the question. All in favor.”
Six hands went up among the board members, leaving only Aho’s out. “Very well,” the president said, not even calling for a show of hands for those opposed. “The vote is recorded as 6-1 in favor. Now I ask for a show of hands on adding review of the superintendent’s contract to the agenda under Personnel and Staffing. All in favor?”
Again the vote was six to one. “That’s it,” Mike whispered to Susan. “It’s all over with except for the rubberstamping, and he knows it.”
There were no other calls for items to be added to the agenda, although Susan suspected that there would be as the board president said, “Next item, approval of the financials.”
“Mr. President,” Battle said, “I ask that we defer this item pending a full review, and possibly an audit.”
“These are just routine reports, you know that,” Aho shot back at him. “We routinely approve them at each meeting.”
“That may be so,” Battle replied. “But circumstances seem to call for a more-thorough review. For whatever reason, the financials were only given to the board over the weekend, and that’s not enough time to review them. Again, I call the question.”
Mike again leaned over to whisper to Susan, “Probably there’s nothing there yet, but Battle is making his point.”
“I can see that,” Susan whispered back. “Let me hear.”
Once again, the vote was 6-1. Neither Aho nor Gingrich looked very happy about it; it was as if they could see the avalanche coming toward them and had no place to run.
There were a couple other items that were routinely rubberstamped, such as approval of some other administrative reports. They were this time as well; Susan and Mike had both glanced through them, and there was apparently nothing controversial about them.
There was also nothing controversial on the first few items of the Personnel and Staffing section. A couple of last-minute teacher hires had to be approved since they’d been brought on board since the previous board meeting, and a bus driver resignation and replacement also had to be approved. This didn’t involve anything more than Aho reading the names and asking for a vote; all were passed unanimously.
Aho clearly was not very happy when he hit the final agenda item under the Personnel and Staffing section. “All right,” he sighed. “The next item is review of the superintendent’s contract. Mr. Battle, you were the one who asked for this item to be placed on the agenda.”
“That’s correct,” Battle started out. “As you are no doubt aware, in the last few days, some facts about the superintendent have come to light that cast some doubt on the qualifications of Mr. Gingrich to serve as superintendent. While they might not have affected the vote at the time he was hired, I feel that the existence of these items indicates at best a lack of honesty and an attempt to manipulate the hiring process.”
“Those are just unsubstantiated charges,” Gingrich protested. “They have no basis in fact.”
“That may be true,” Battle conceded. “But the fact is that the charges have been made, and that court action is under way. The charges had been filed at the time you made application to come here, and we should have been informed of that fact before the time came to make the decision. The fact that you failed to inform us of that, calls into question your fitness to serve as the superintendent of this district. Had we been fully informed we might or might not have approved the action that was taken.”
“I chose not to inform you,” Gingrich replied, “because in my opinion the charges were just harassment, and not to be taken seriously.”
“But you’ve taken them seriously enough to absent yourself from the district on two different occasions that I’m aware of in order to be in court. We were not informed of your absence or the reasons for it, either. Mr. President, I said when Mr. Gingrich was hired that we passed by better candidates. His not informing us of the existing court actions in my mind calls his honesty into question, and I think it means that we should take into consideration the morals section of the contract, specifically Sections fourteen B and C.”
“Nothing has been proved,” Aho stoically interjected. “The charges are not really pertinent.”
“I think they’re very pertinent.” Battle replied. “In fact, they’re so pertinent that I feel that the board should act to terminate Mr. Gingrich from his position immediately, before the grace period in Section eighteen F of his contract expires. I therefore move that we terminate Mr. Gingrich from the position as superintendent, effective immediately.”
“You can’t do that!” Gingrich exploded. “You signed a contract in good faith, and now you’re trying to go back on it.”
“Yes, we can,” Ed Rickenbaugh spoke up. “The fact of the matter is that we were sadly misled, by both you and by the board president. I therefore second the motion, and am prepared to call the question.”
“Do you really think you have to do that?” Aho said quietly. “Mr. Gingrich is a good man, and he’s served the district well in the time he’s been here.”
“Let’s either get on with it or I’ll call the question, Mr. President,” Rickenbaugh replied flatly. “Either way, it means no further discussion.”
The room got very silent at that point. Aho looked up and down the table and could pretty well read the vote in the faces he saw, as if Rickenbaugh being the one to call the question hadn’t pretty well told him where his bread was buttered. He’d been one of the four to vote for hiring Gingrich in the first place. “I think,” he said finally, “that considering the importance of this matter, we’d better not just go with a show of hands. The clerk will call the roll.”
There was a moment before the board clerk, who was also the superintendent’s secretary, began to call the names. Susan knew from calls that had been made that she hadn’t been very happy with the superintendent either, although she hadn’t been very vocal about it. “Motion to terminate Mr. Gingrich, effective immediately,” she said in a loud, clear voice that carried through the whole room. “Battle.”
“Yes.” Susan knew that one was a foregone conclusion; it was no surprise.
“Friedenbach.” He was the new board member, only having come onto the board at the first meeting in July. His vote had been the pivotal one on hiring Gingrich, and Susan knew that Aho had delayed the hiring vote until he came on the board to be sure of having it. Now, his vote could be pivotal again.
“Yes,” he replied without comment.
“Hargraves,” the clerk called. Susan hadn’t been able to talk to him; he’d been out of town on vacation, only arriving back on Sunday. On the other hand, she knew that he was one who had voted against Gingrich in the first place.
The room grew even more silent, if such a thing were possible. One more yes vote and Gingrich was history.
“Rickenbaugh.” He’d been the one to second the motion, but it might just have been to get the question up to a vote.
Although the crowd was supposed to be quiet, a lot of noise erupted. Out of the corner of her eye, Susan could see people giving high-fives and the like. It was a done deal; Gingrich was gone!
The rest of the vote was both anticlimactic and hard to hear, but there were two more votes recorded as yes votes. By custom, the board president voted last, and again the room got quiet. Would Aho hold the line, or would he vote with the rest of the board? The clerk called his name, and he sighed, “No, and I think the rest of you have made a big mistake that you’re going to be sorry about.” He turned to the former superintendent and said. “Mr. Gingrich, it’s my unpleasant duty to inform you that you have been removed as superintendent by a six to one vote of the board, effective immediately.”