Nettesheim, board ink interim school chief contract

Superintendent deal gives business director her old job back if she wants it, pays her $169,000
Ozaukee Press staff

After two months of negotiations, the Port Washington-Saukville School District has inked a contract with its director of business services that will pay her $169,000 to serve as interim superintendent next school year.

The board voted 6-2 last week to approve a contract for Mel Nettesheim, who will serve as the district’s interim chief administrator because she has not yet earned her superintendent’s license but is the presumptive permanent superintendent.

The board, which hired the district’s current superintendent, Dave Watkins, in June 2021 and was stunned by his announcement in fall that he will retire at the end of this school year, wasted no time in picking Nettesheim as his successor on Nov. 7.

But the signing of a contract, typically done within days of the decision to hire an administrator, was complicated by the fact the board decided to promote an existing employee to an interim position.

The contract approved by the board and signed by Nettesheim last week calls for her to resume her current position as director of business services if the district hires a new superintendent or her one-year interim superintendent contract expires.

The board, in fact, essentially approved two contracts — a two-year extension of her director of business services contract, which changes her title to director of finance and human resources and guarantees her fall-back job, and an addendum that makes her interim superintendent beginning July 1.

Among the provisions in the contract is a clause that obligates the district to pay as much as $7,000 of Nettesheim’s moving expenses if she chooses to relocate within 10 miles of the School District, although it makes clear she is not obligated to move.

Nettesheim, 38, and her family live about 25 miles west of Port Washington in Allenton.

“The board believes the more connected to the community a superintendent is, the better they can understand the needs of parents, students and the community,” School Board President Brenda Fritsch said. “It would be a benefit to the district to have her move here but it’s not required. We understand that because Mel has young kids in school that moving can be difficult.”

When asked why the $7,000 is not conditioned on Nettesheim moving into the district rather than within 10 miles of it, Fritsch said the board wanted to give her flexibility at a time when the inventory of homes is low and the housing market is competitive.

“We thought the availability of homes would be greater within 10 miles of the district,” she said.

The contract also calls for the district to contribute $4,000 to an annuity for Nettesheim and reimburse her up to $850 per credit for continuing education, which means the district will pay for Nettesheim to earn her superintendent’s license, Fritsch said.

Under the contract, Nettesheim has 25 vacation days plus as many as 19 additional paid days off a year for reasons that range from illness to the death of a relative, which is standard in the district’s administrative contracts, Fritsch said.

Voting against approval of the contract last week were Board Vice President Brian Stevens and Doug Mueller, both of whom said their vote reflected their objections to the hiring process, not the provisions of the contract.

“Nothing against Mel, but we had the time to conduct a search and consider other candidates,” Stevens said.

When Mike Weber announced he was retiring at the end of the 2020-21 school year after 21 years as superintendent of the district, the board hired a consulting firm and conducted a four-month, region-wide search for his replacement.

The process included multiple public meetings and input sessions as well as several rounds of interviews and resulted in the selection of two finalists — Watkins, a top administrator in the St. Paul, Minn., school system, and Joe Koch, a Port Washington High School graduate and former teacher at the school who is deputy superintendent of the Waukesha School District. Koch was recently chosen to become the superintendent of the Mukwonago School District.

This time around, however, the board conducted its hiring process almost exclusively in closed session and interviewed just one candidate — Nettesheim — without seeking external candidates.

“I think Mel will do a great job, but you want to give yourself the opportunity to hire the best candidate,” Mueller said. “I think the process should have been opened up to other candidates.”

Although opposed to the hiring process, Mueller characterized the Nettesheim contract as fair in light of how superintendents in other area districts are compensated.

Nettesheim, who is paid $144,200 annually as director of business services, will receive a $25,000 bump as superintendent but be paid less than Watkins, who earns $185,000 a year, Fritsch said.

While the board was divided over the hiring process, its members saw in Nettesheim a candidate who as superintendent would lend stability to a district that has been rattled by turnover in the highest ranks of its administrators and, in particular, continue a strategic planning process implemented during the Watkins administration.

“My No. 1 objective through all of this has been to keep our current plan in place,” board member Sara McCutcheon said in November. “We need someone who has intimate knowledge of this plan. We don’t need any more change right now.

“Nothing would make me happier than to have Mel as our interim superintendent.”

Nettesheim came to the district in January 2021 from the Wauwatosa School District, where she was director of operations and facilities, and although she has worked here for just two years, she is the district’s longest-serving central office administrator.

Unlike the district’s other superintendents, Nettesheim holds a master of business administration degree but has no classroom teaching experience.

Fritsch touted Nettesheim’s accomplishments and said that while she does not have a background in curriculum, the district’s Director of Instruction Tammy Thompson Kapp is an expert in that area and can support Nettesheim in that regard.

“We have two other administrators in the district office who are just elite in their fields,” Fritsch said in November, referring also to Director of Special Education Brian Sutton.

Among Nettesheim’s noteworthy accomplishments, Fritsch said, is the work she has done to update the district’s website, live-stream School Board meetings and expand the district’s use of social media to communicate with parents and other district residents.

Fritsch also noted that Nettesheim created human resources and community coordinator positions, revamped the employee handbook and, in particular, has been an integral part of the strategic planning process.

“Her experience, her education and her continuing education provides a great base for her to serve as superintendent,” Fritsch said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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