BENTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - It may have been 1 p.m. on a workday, but it didn't stop an estimated 140 people from coming out to support Benton Community Schools Superintendent Destin Haas. There was so many Tuesday, the location had to move to fit them all.
News 18 broke the story last month that Haas' contract would not be renewed. A mutual agreement between the school board calls for a $25,000 payout if Haas leaves before the end of the month.
The constant theme from public comments from community members Tuesday was wanting to know the reasoning behind the decision by the Benton Community School Corporation School Board.
After brief remarks from Board President Mike Souligne, Haas spoke, asking for the meeting to remain civil.
"Thank you all for coming. I appreciate you all being here," said Haas.
He visibly became overcome by emotion by the audience clapping, then giving him a standing ovation.
Haas was then followed by a steady stream. From the room of roughly 140 people, 18 parents, grandparents and even a few former students upset that his contract won't be renewed.
"As the superintendent his approach is what sets the tone for the entire corporation," said parent Michele Snethen.
"I think those five people [on the school board] would be making a grave mistake if they get rid of this man," added resident Gayle Guthridge.
One mother even presented a petition of 1,300 signatures to the board.
Souligne admitted he was a little surprised by the turnout. However, he and the rest of the school board members are not commenting on the reason behind letting Haas go.
"I'm not going to make any comments on what the reasons are," Souligne repeated to News 18 Tuesday.
News 18 made a public records request for emails sent in the last nine months between Haas and various school board members. Despite hundreds of pages of documents, there are few clues.
While Destin Haas told News 18 that the situation was too emotional for him to be willing to be interviewed Tuesday, he confirmed one of the three allegations that he says were behind the board's decision.
He says about a year ago, he was loading some equipment at the administration building with two students when he heard over the radio that there was a fire at Benton Central High School. He says he made the poor judgment call to drive to the school at a very high rate of speed with students on board. He says he called the parents soon after, apologized and wished he would have chosen to leave them at the administration building.
The other two reasons, for now, remain a mystery.
"The agreement has been signed by both parties and we will vote on it on the 15th. It's the only comments that I'm going to make on it," said Souligne.
Former teacher and parent Cathy Coats was one of the people who spoke.
"They've already made their decision and I can't imagine that they will rescind that. It would be wonderful for our corporation. But the damage is done," said Coats.
Others speakers like Dan Kerkhoff stated publicly, it's not too late for the board to change their minds
"I believe they'll make a prudent decision. I believe they will give it a lot of consideration," said Kerkhoff.
Haas told News 18 he has received some job offers.
The school board vote is scheduled for exactly a week away, Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. For now, it will be at the administration building, but that could change depending on the crowd.
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