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Dover kindergarden student Winston Roblyer, 6, draws while residents crowd the Dover School Board meeting, Monday June 5, 2006. Residents came out in force to voice their opinions about the board's upcoming decision as to whether or not they will renew the district's superintendent and assistant superintendent's contracts.
Depending on who's talking, Dover Area School District's top two administrators are either dedicated, hardworking men who deserve another term, or they are two men who failed to stop a public relations catastrophe and the $1 million legal bill that followed.

A line of people waited outside to get into last night's school board meeting, during which superintendent Richard Nilsen and assistant superintendent Michael Baksa were the topic of public comment for about an hour and a half.

Nearly 20 residents spoke about the administrators, whose contracts expire next year, spurring the school board to consider opening the positions to other applicants.

School board members said they would take residents' input into consideration, and a vote on whether to open the positions will be taken at the board's June 19 meeting.

The crowd of 100 people included at least 10 former school board members, some of whom were in favor of the intelligent design policy that landed Nilsen and Baksa in the witness chair at a federal trial in Harrisburg.

Retaliation alleged: Most of the comments fielded were in favor of keeping Nilsen and Baksa.

Some speakers at last night's meeting suggested the board is considering replacing the administrators as retaliation for intelligent design, that their contracts might not be renewed because Nilsen and Baksa were in charge in 2004 when the former school board voted to require mention of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a ninth-grade biology class.


Eleven parents successfully sued the
district over that policy, and intelligent design was a key issue in a 2005 election in which eight school board members who supported intelligent design were ousted and replaced by candidates who opposed the policy.

Parent Christine Peters said Nilsen has a good rapport with students and attends almost all of the school district's functions.

She said he was "only carrying out what the board wanted him to do at that time" when the intelligent design policy was put in place.

But resident Paul Kaune said the administrators should be held accountable.

"I feel that they could've done more to prevent the million-dollar lawsuit by standing up to the former board and saying 'No,' especially when the solicitor recommended the district not get involved in such a lawsuit," Kaune said.

Asked for reasons: Former school board member Jeff Brown said the school board needs to heal the community in the wake of a debate over intelligent design, and this may be the only chance.

"You got a lot of issues ahead of you that don't have happy endings built in," he said. "I wouldn't borrow any trouble you don't have to borrow."

Baksa and board member Heather Geesey -- who voted in favor of intelligent design and is the sole remaining member of the former school board -- have said the board decided in an executive session earlier this month not to renew the contracts.

Parent Lisa Warren, part of a group of residents who rallied people to attend last night's board meeting, grilled the school board to explain the reasons why they wouldn't want to renew the administrators' contracts.

"Again, I ask you, do you really think this is the best?" she said. "This is just like the old school board. You listen, and it goes in one ear and out the other."

In response to Warren's question, Nilsen read a statement saying that he would usually want personnel matters to remain confidential, but he would agree to having the discussion in public. Baksa agreed.

Warren asked the board again to explain its motives.

Deny decision is made: Board member Bryan Rehm, whose comments were later echoed by other board members, said the board hasn't taken any action against renewing the administrators' contracts; the issue is simply open for discussion.

"We're still talking," said board member Judy McIlvaine. "It hasn't happened yet."

After last night's meeting, Nilsen refused to comment. Baksa said only that he wanted to thank people for their support.

A decision on whether to open the positions for the administrators must be made by June 30, although the contracts do not end until next year. Nilsen's contract expires June 30, 2007, and Baksa's expires July 1, 2007. Nilsen started with the district during the 1998-99 school year as the district's assistant superintendent and was promoted to superintendent in 2002. Baksa was hired in 2002.

The Pennsylvania school code states that districts must give top administrators 150 days' notice before the expiration of a contract.

The school board will vote on whether to open the administrators' positions at 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, at North Salem Elementary School.

-- Reach Christina Kauff man at 505-5434 or