NORTHFIELD CENTER -- At its Feb. 21 meeting, the Nordonia Hills School Board tabled the renewal of Superintendent Dr. Joe Clark's contract through 2023, due to the absence of one Board member, Jim Szabo.

Szabo told the News Leader Feb. 24 he has no comment on the contract renewal.

At the meeting, School Board president Chad Lahrmer said "Hiring, evaluating, choosing the superintendent here is an extremely vital task of the Board of Education, and I believe all five members should be here to vote."He added the vote would be postponed until the Board's next meeting, which is currently scheduled for March 20 at 7 p.m.

"All five board members have a responsibility to this community and to the school district ... all five need to be here whether they agree with each other or not," said Board Member Nick Berchtold said. "They need to be here to speak their conscience and vote their conscience and not be absent during this important session."

Clark's latest performance evaluation, dated Feb. 17, gave him above average marks in nearly all categories.

However, Lahrmer said Szabo did not participate in the evaluation other than to include a written statement that says he does not possess "the objectivity to make an evaluation at this time."

Szabo went on to describe a public records request he made last May that revealed an email containing a comment by Clark about him prior to his election to the Board that states "I believe deeply that when you mud wrestle pigs you both get dirty and the pig enjoys it."

Szabo wrote, "This remark is almost verbatim to one he made about another resident of the district at a later date, the common denominator being that both individuals expressed a criticism of the actions of the district under his leadership. There has been no acknowledgement of any remorse, poor judgement, poor wording, or apology for his comment (made through district email) to any Board member or myself.

"In the other resident's case he claims this statement is an aphorism. In my case, I viewed his response to be a disparaging metaphor ..."

Clark responded to Szabo's comments in the evaluation in a Feb. 17 letter to the Board, stating he believes Szabo's actions to be "vindictive and unprofessional."

"Since before he was elected to the Board Mr. Szabo publicly stated his opposition to me ... Most concerning to me is his maintaining a file of 'evidence' against me, parts of which he shared at a board meeting on Jan. 23, 2016. The file contained documents that Mr. Szabo purports to prove nefarious behaviors on the part of me or my staff, none of which can be substantiated by facts. Most disturbing is Mr. Szabo's possession of photographs of me taken surreptitiously. Frankly I find it creepy that Mr. Szabo would take these photos, have others take these photos for him, and/or maintain these photos," Clark wrote.

Clark added that despite having discussed some of the documents during a public Board meeting, Szabo has refused a public records request for the documents. Clark concluded his concerns by stating "I feel the need to express these concerns now because I believe Mr. Szabo is conspiring with a small community group to damage my reputation and career."

Despite opposition from Szabo, the rest of the remarks on Clark's evaluation written by Board members were positive, according to a summary of their comments that did not identify members by name.

One Board member stated, "There is a negative view of Dr. Clark from a small, but very vocal portion of the community. I encourage him to look to the gains the district has made, the positive attendance in community open forums and the positive remarks made by many within the community. Continue with respectful dialogue knowing that not everyone will be pleased."

Another Board member stated "I have seen improvement in certain areas raised as concerns last year. Dr. Clark is a very strong superintendent and feel strongly that his passion and enthusiasm for our district's students a very positive trait. Our district is fortunate to have someone with Dr. Clark's strength and passion."

Yet another comment praised Clark for his leadership in the face of the tragic loss of three student lives in the district last year.

"Dr. Clark has proven to be reliable, respectful and resourceful superintendent in the past year. He has lead two elementary buildings and the high school through the unexpected loss of a student ... I have found Dr. Clark to be truthful and upfront throughout difficult situations."

Also on Feb. 21, the Board voted on several personnel items including contract renewals for high school principal Casey Wright, middle school principal Ryan Durr, Rushwood Elementary principal Jacqueline O'Mara and Northfield Elementary principal Staci Albanese. Clark said the contract renewals were for three years from August 2018 through July 2021. The renewals do not make any compensation or pay increase provisions.

Briana Barker: 330-541-9432