Ongoing closed-session discussions about Portage Schools Superintendent Charles Poches’ contract beyond 2017-18 eclipsed a year in length this month.

The Portage School Board most recently reviewed the contract and performance of Poches after its regular meeting Dec. 11 but did not make a decision when it reconvened in open session.

Poches is on a two-year contract that ends June 30. The meetings about his contract beyond this school year began in December 2016. In March, the school board voted 6-1 to keep Poches through 2017-18 at the same salary he received in 2016-17, noting it would reconsider extending his contract at a later date. It did not meet in closed session regarding Poches again until November.

In May, nearly 100 members of the Portage Education Association — all of them teachers employed by the district at the time — voted during a union meeting that they lack confidence in Poches as district administrator, according to Bill Froelich, who said he could speak on behalf of Association members. The union has 127 teacher members, and the district regularly employs about 180 teachers.

Froelich is the director of Wisconsin Education Association Council, Region 5. The Council represents public education employees across the state in matters of public policy, labor and other professional interests. WEAC Region 5 is based in Baraboo, covering employees in 43 school districts.

Six Portage teachers serve on the local Association’s executive board, and Froelich meets with them once each month, he said.

Froehlich said the Portage Education Association did not share its May vote publicly or with the Portage School Board until now because members wanted to see what the board would do concerning Poches.

“People feel intimidated. They don’t feel valued,” Froelich said of the overall climate in the district.

He said teacher concerns include a lack of input in the direction of the district; poor communication; a chain-of-command policy for staff complaints — established by the board in July — that’s confusing and discourages teachers from speaking to board members; and school board listening sessions that were promised, but then canceled in May.

“The PEA is committed to making the district one of the best in the area, but they don’t feel like they have a say in it,” Froelich said. “It seems like whenever there’s a difference of opinion, the door’s being shut. They’re frustrated.”

Poches said Wednesday that he, along with other administrators and staff, have worked hard over the past several months to improve communication in the district, noting several committees at the district and building level continue to provide avenues for staff input. Much has changed in the district since the local teachers group held its May vote, Poches added, citing his frequent meetings with staff and quarterly news items that administration issues to employees to keep them informed.

Regarding the local Association’s vote in May and the concerns relayed by Froelich, School Board President Steve Pate said, “We have worked very hard with the union on a number of issues, and for the past three years, we’ve gone above and beyond what Act 10 allows when it comes to salaries. I think we’ve treated them as well as we can.”

“It makes me sad that this is what it comes down to,” Pate said, emphasizing his comments were not made on behalf of the school board. “I thought we had better relationships than this.”

The board likely will next meet in closed session regarding Poches after its Jan. 8 regular meeting, Pate confirmed.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter