Carroll High School Principal Tammie McKenzie (left) and former Superintendent Kevin Lein speak with student Elizabeth Neal about her class schedule during the first day of school last year.  Lein resigned from the school district as superintendent in February.
Carroll High School Principal Tammie McKenzie (left) and former Superintendent Kevin Lein speak with student Elizabeth Neal about her class schedule during the first day of school last year. Lein resigned from the school district as superintendent in February.

July 26, 2019

Carroll Community school board members already had concerns about their new superintendent by the time he inadvertently sent a steamy email in December to one of his teachers, the teacher told the Carroll Times Herald.

The board hired Kevin Lein, 60, last year to replace longtime Superintendent Rob Cordes, who retired that year. But after about seven months on the job, Lein announced his resignation in February with no public explanation and continued to collect his monthly salary of about $13,000 for a further five months while he was on a “leave of absence.”

The district spent tens of thousands of dollars to pay an interim superintendent and for attorney’s fees related to the resignation, said Gary Bengtson, director of business affairs for the school district.

Still, the school board declined to reveal the reasons for Lein’s departure because of personnel privacy laws.

Lein initially was heralded for his progressive ideas for education and had received national recognition for surviving a school shooting in which a student tried to kill him in Harrisburg, South Dakota, where he worked as a high school principal.

In Carroll, he moved quickly to create new vision and mission statements and design a new curriculum for the high school gym classes, and he pushed to start students on a “personalized learning” program, a teaching strategy he helped implement in South Dakota that would have allowed students to learn at their own pace.

He wrote poetic, weekly updates to school district employees and parents.

But just months into the job, he had run afoul of the desires of the school board by making decisions unilaterally, without the board’s prior approval.

He decided to create a new position in the district office to handle Infinite Campus — a web-based information system for student records — and move a Carroll Middle School staffer into the role. When the board ultimately declined to transfer the employee, the employee resigned, according to a resignation letter obtained by the Times Herald.

Trent Grundmeyer, of Grundmeyer Leader Search in Ankeny, who helped recruit and hire Lein last year, told the Times Herald that Lein had difficulties working under the authority of the school board.

“He had experience which we thought would translate nicely to this job, but the one thing I think we underestimated — and I am just being candid and honest because the next person could do it without an issue — is answering to a (school) board,” Grundmeyer said. “When he was with the (Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Pocahontas before the Carroll job), he answered to a boss, but it wasn’t a board. I think he’s used to reporting to a board but not answering to (the board).”

Then in December, a Carroll elementary teacher received an email to her personal email account from Lein’s personal email account that apparently was intended for another woman with the same first name, asking whether she would be willing to travel to Omaha, Nebraska.

The Times Herald obtained a copy of the email, and the Carroll teacher confirmed its authenticity.

“You know the image that peers back at me all the time,” the email says. “The glow of candles that have burned halfway down, I hear the shower, you in front of the mirror … readying yourself to walk out of my life, after having been my life for a time.”

The Times Herald was unable to confirm the identity of the other woman.

Lein declined to comment on the email and other aspects of this article.

“I have put it all behind me,” Lein wrote in an email to the Times Herald.

The teacher said she told school board members about the email within days of receiving it.

“I basically did not know what to do after receiving it,” the teacher said. “They already had some things they were researching about (Lein), so this was just another thing. I know this wasn’t one of the biggest things they were very concerned about.”

School Board President Jen Munson confirmed that she met with the teacher along with board member Duane Horsley to discuss the email. Board members did not dispute the teacher’s account of the meeting but declined to elaborate on their other concerns.

The resignation, which was effective at the end of June, was preceded by a series of closed-door “professional competency” evaluations of Lein that involved all five members of the school board. He communicated with the district’s attorney about the terms of his departure, according to his resignation letter, but the district insists he did not resign under the threat of termination.

That distinction is important because school districts, by Iowa law, must disclose the “reasons and rationale” for an employee’s termination or resignation in lieu of termination.

“Thanks to the entire community for this brief opportunity for my family,” Lein wrote in his resignation letter, which was dated Feb. 6.

The school board held a special meeting two days later to accept the resignation without notifying the public who was resigning, and board members denied repeated requests to release the resignation letter — which is a public record — before the meeting.

Horsley said recently that the community should have confidence in the board’s handling of Lein.

“The community has to trust the board,” he said. “When we presented the issues to Lein, he decided it was best to take a different career path.”

The board hired former Algona Superintendent Marty Fonley in February to temporarily replace Lein on a part-time basis and agreed to pay him $650 per day to spend at least two days each week working in Carroll. The district paid him a total of nearly $30,000 between February and the end of June, said Bengtson, the district’s director of business affairs.

In April, the board selected Casey Berlau, 44 — then the superintendent of Nodaway Valley Community School District in Greenfield and CAM Community School District in Anita — as the permanent replacement for superintendent. He started July 1.

This year, when it came time to hold interviews for the three superintendent candidates, the school board did things a bit differently.

Grundmeyer said the school board did not have Carroll-area residents participate in the interviews like it did last year, and the school staff and administrators who were involved wrote their own questions for the candidates.

“A lot of the groups are coming up with their own questions, but what I see is probably more around visibility in schools, more around following policy and procedures — it seemed like a big item,” Grundmeyer said.

Unlike Lein’s three-year contract, which was supposed to be effective from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021, Berlau’s contract is only for a year. He will receive a salary of $160,000 with benefits. Lein’s salary was $155,000.

Lein began his tenure on an optimistic note: “I would like to be superintendent here for four years and look back and go, ‘Now we’re the envy of this region,’ ” he told the Times Herald soon after he was hired.

He was contrite in his farewell email to school district staff:

Thanks for the opportunity, your patience and support. With humility and the request for forgiveness of failures, Kevin.”