Kansas superintendent, school board face backlash over lack of transparency

(The Sentinel) – It’s been a summer of discontent among Louisburg USD 416 patrons over recent actions by its superintendent and school board with accusations of lying coupled with a recent Kansas Open Meetings Acts (KOMA) complaint leveled against school officials.

Some four dozen parents and community members penned an open letter to the Board of Education with scathing criticism of Superintendent Brian Biermann and his efforts to mislead the school board into renewing membership in the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

The parents’ group, Concerned Patrons of USD 416, opposed the renewal, citing KASB’s political activism, association with declining K-12 assessment scores, and overall value to the district. In a meeting this past Spring, a source indicated five of the seven board members agreed with the group that membership should not be renewed, but it tabled the issue until questions of the impacts on policy guidance and legal counsel services provided by KASB could be studied. Concerned Patrons praised the board for its due diligence while maintaining its opposition to renewal.

The July board meeting proved a turning point in the issue. From the parents’ group’s letter:

During this meeting, at the last possible moment prior to finalizing the previously determined course of action, Dr. Bierman presented a litany of never-before-discussed “supposed issues”, in addition to an ambush of opposition from multiple sources, to pressure the board to reverse the direction to disassociate from KASB and clearly expressed a new-found alarm and urgency for the board to take immediate action to renew KASB membership.

Concerned Patrons listed the 11th-hour issues presented by the superintendent:

  • There are only two options for liability insurance coverage for districts the size of Louisburg: 1) EMC and 2) a KASB self-funded pool (referred to as KSB in the meeting).
  • Only KASB members could participate in the KASB self-funded insurance pool
  • EMC and Elliot insurance stated that non-renewal of KASB membership would result in the district’s insurance rate going up drastically or the district being deemed uninsurable.
  • The independent fiscal auditor, Sean Gordon, CPA, will write letters of concern in the district’s fiscal audit should KASB membership be non-renewed. 

As a result of these concerns raised, the board reversed its position and unanimously approved staying in KASB.

recent investigation by The Sentinel into Biermann’s claims justifying renewal of KASB membership disputed his contentions:

Justin Zwaschka, a representative of the district’s insurer, Elliott Group, said, “There is no hard requirement for districts to stay a KASB member as an EMC insured. However, a portion of the premium is always based on the unknown.” The claims of a “drastic” increase in liability insurance rates or the district found to be “uninsurable” appear to be overblown.

KASB spokesman Jeremy Woydziak disputes Biermann’s claim that EMC or the KASB self-insurance program are the only alternatives for a district the size of Louisburg’s: “Membership is not required for coverage.”

On the “adverse audit opinion” for non-KASB members, the district’s auditor, Sean Gordon, said not being diligent to financial matters “could potentially” have an audit impact, the Kansas State Department of Education offers financial guidelines including an Accounting Handbook to all school districts to keep their fiscal houses in order.

Alleged violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act

The alleged KOMA violation stems from a more recent board meeting that went into executive session with the superintendent, which is customary for discussions of personnel issues and lawsuits. However, former board member Dr. Douglas Shane later discovered the executive session included a discussion of school gender policy, which he says is clearly a matter to be debated in the open forum. Dr. Shane is awaiting an opinion on his complaint.

These are not the first issues of a lack of transparency in Louisburg USD 416. A controversial contact tracing policy was a focus in the Spring of 2021.

Concerned Patrons of USD 416 concluded its letter with a call to action to the board of education about its superintendent:

It is unacceptable that an unelected public official, serving at the pleasure of the Board, should intentionally manipulate the elected through what appears to be deceit and obfuscation in an effort to control school policy according to an agenda disparate from that of the Board’s. Dr. Bierman’s actions are disturbing, toxic, and damaging to our children and staff, and, ultimately, to the community at large.

He has lost our faith and confidence that he is discharging his duties in good faith. As our representatives, you should arrive at the same conclusion. Once trust has been so blatantly compromised, it calls into question whether the superintendent is acting to execute the will of the Board in all other areas. Those citizens that elected the Board deserve and insist on having a school administrator that can be trusted and is not working to undermine the will of the board.

We urge this Board take action in regard to Dr. Bierman’s conduct and insubordination. As the elected, you were selected by this community to bring forward the necessary leadership to keep Louisburg and USD 416 a school district where people live by choice. We implore you to fight to keep that choice a reality.

We reached out to Superintendent Biermann and each of the seven Board of Education members for comment on these issues. None was provided.

The next meeting of the Louisburg school board is on September 12th.

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