Teachers question hiring of official’s son as principal

Nolan Lister —
Thursday, July 11, 2019
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Washington School is pictured Thursday afternoon. (Enterprise photo)

The recent decision by the Livingston School District Board of Trustees to hire the district superintendent’s son to fill a high-level administration position is raising the eyebrows of the teachers union and some district employees.

The trustees approved the hire of Jordan Viegut, son of Livingston School District Superintendent Don Viegut, as principal and curriculum director of Washington School Early Foundation Center during its Tuesday evening meeting.

Jordan Viegut, who was previously employed as principal at Jefferson School, a Glendive school serving kindergartners through second-graders, will be hired to a one-year contract. 

The terms of the contract, including salary, have yet to be finalized, school officials said. 

According to trustees, the letters of recommendation from the new hire’s former coworkers resonated with the hiring committee as well as the board.

“In my combined 20 years of teaching, I have never worked with/for a more compassionate, intelligent and supportive principal than Jordan,” Jefferson School kindergarten teacher Amy Hopfauf wrote in a letter to the Livingston School District Board.

The decision drew some concern from teachers within the district.

“It’s a little worrisome,” said Washington School kindergarten teacher Pat Thums during Tuesday’s board meeting. “It doesn’t seem right to me. I think it will prohibit staff from coming forth with issues.”

Anytime a district employee has a problem with an administrator, the typical recourse is to consult the superintendent, said Tara Livermore, another kindergarten teacher at Washington and the lone teacher representative on the hiring committee.

Don Viegut assured the board and those in attendance that Park High School Co-principal Lynne Scalia will serve as his son’s direct supervisor.

“I will offer the same advice to him as I do to all administrators on any issue,” he said in an interview Thursday. “If a conflict should arise, Lynne Scalia will deal with it, not myself.”

During a Thursday interview, Jordan Viegut said he did not feel hiring was putting Washington School faculty in a tough position.

“I’m really confident in not only my ability but willingness to work alongside the really good staff here at Washington,” he said.

Thums said while Jordan Viegut may be qualified for the position, it is not his qualifications the board should be concerned about in this case.

“We need to be looking at the idea of disqualification,” she said, adding that his hiring poses a potential conflict of interest.

The district’s business director, Ellen Conley, said research was conducted on nepotism laws and that such laws apply only to trustees.

In an interview Thursday, Don Viegut said the hire is not unusual and that the district has hired relatives, even the children, of trustees in the past.

“In a small community like this, the hiring of relatives is fairly common practice,” he said.

The district received nine applications and one letter of interest for the position. 

The district’s head of curriculum instruction, Todd Wester, served on the hiring committee.

In Wester’s report to the trustees just before their hiring of Jordan Viegut, he said he believed the entire district had “good representation” on the committee.

Scalia chose the members of the hiring committee — four administrators and one teacher. 

“I think he’s a wonderful candidate, but I think this whole process could have been better,” Livermore said, referencing a lack of consideration of teacher input by members of the hiring committee and the board.

Julie Bartz, co-president of the Livingston Education Association, which is the district’s teachers union, echoed Livermore’s concerns.

“The teacher voice wasn’t adequately heard in that process,” Bartz told the trustees during Tuesday’s meeting.

When reached for further comment, Bartz declined.

“I think it’s probably best if I don’t comment,” she said.

Don Viegut said the district takes seriously the concern about teachers’ voices not being heard.

“We need to reflect on those comments,” he said during the interview. “We will continue to explore how to include more teacher voice in all of our work.”

Trustee Druska Kinkie said during the meeting the fact that this is a special case that will draw extra attention from district administrators should be viewed as a benefit.

“We’re going to be tuned in to making sure everyone has a voice, so, in the end, you’ll have a bigger voice,” Kinkie said.

She also cited an abundance of “professionalism among our administration” and the district’s track record of listening to its employees’ concerns as reasons not to worry.

“Just because we’ve never done this before, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t,” Kinkie said.