Dr. Stessman Update

Olivia Talbert

At 10:30 p.m. on April 6, Superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman was taken into the Jefferson County jail under the suspicion of a DUI, after failing a field sobriety test. After two special board meetings, the board of education has decided to keep Dr. Stessman as superintendent of schools until further notice.

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Stessman was arrested that Saturday night after a caller reported a reckless driver on I-70 and Rice Road. The caller followed the vehicle north on K-4 to Highway 24 and then east. They noticed the vehicle make a U-Turn on the highway and then head back west. Kansas Highway Patrol found Dr. Stessman parked on the side of Highway 24 at 8:25 p.m. Dr. Stessman was then arrested and given a $1,000 bail, which was paid outright leading to his release at 11:45 p.m.

The next day, April 7, a special board meeting was called and immediately went into executive session to discuss personnel matters. At that time, no action was taken against Dr. Stessman.

The final decision against Stessman would not arrive until April 11, five days after Stessman’s arrest. The board immediately went into executive session at a second special board meeting at 6 p.m., and was extended several times. Just after 9 p.m., the board issued its statement outlining their decision, titled a “Formal Reprimand.”

“This statement serves as a formal reprimand from the Board of Education for engaging in conduct unbecoming to Dr. Stessman’s position as Superintendent of Schools,” the letter began. “Although the incident occurred during non-school hours and off school grounds, Dr. Stessman is reminded that as Superintendent, his conduct, both during school and non-school periods, directly reflects on the District, the Board of Education, the community, our students and their families.”

In the letter, the board dictated five stipulations regarding  Dr. Stessman’s employment:

  1. Dr. Stessman is placed on administrative leave until June 1, 2019. During this seven week period, he must forfeit 20 days of pay (equal to four weeks pay). These funds will go toward an alcohol awareness program that is yet to be determined and approved by the board.
  2. Dr. Stessman will be on a one year probation period in which he can be terminated by the board at any time.
  3. He must complete a profession alcohol assessment. Although this is a stipulation by the board, this is a core requirement for anyone arrested on suspicion of a DUI charge in the state of Kansas.  
  4. Following this formal assessment, it is expected Dr. Stessman comply with follow-up recommendations.
  5. Finally, Dr. Stessman is expected “to speak to students and make this a teaching moment.” As of this time, the board has provided no further details of what this means or when this will be accomplished.

Between now and June 1, Matt Hirsch, the district’s human resources director, will act as interim Superintendent.

We expect that in the future, no similar incidents will occur, or Dr. Stessman’s employment can be terminated immediately,” the Board said.

The superintendent’s latest contract was approved in March of 2018 and runs for two years, concluding June 30, 2020. In his contract, it states “the Superintendent shall include those set forth in the board policies.” However, only one section of the board policies regarding the superintendent addresses breaking the law.

In section CB, titled “Administrator Ethics”, the board’s policy states, “An administrator’s professional behavior must conform to an ethical code,”. Of the 10 bullet points listed, one says, “The administrator obeys local, state and national laws,”. However, nothing in the board policies or the superintendent’s contract states what the consequences of breaking these policies are.