Moffat County High School choir students sang the National Anthem and were recognized for all-state choir honors Monday night at the Moffat County School Board of Education meeting.
It should have been a good night for high school and middle school choir instructor Ray Zentz but it wasn't.
An hour and a half before his students were honored, Zentz lost his job.
By a 5-1 vote, school board members voted not to renew Zentz's contract at the recommendation of school administrators.
Gary Ellgen was the only school board member to vote against not renewing Zentz's contract.
Zentz, who had been choir director at the school for two years, was still a probationary staff member, meaning the district had employed him for less than three years.
Prior to the recommendation and decision, attorney Tom Thornberry advised the school board that the school superintendent has the authority to recommend non-renewal for any reason he or she deems sufficient.
"You are not talking about a dismissal proceeding," he said.
In most cases, a board would go into executive session to hear what the school superintendent's reasons were unless the teacher being discussed requests that it be done in a public forum.
Zentz requested Monday that it be done in an open session.
Although it was done in an open forum, Thornberry told the board beforehand that it was not obligated to listen to anyone but the superintendent and the teacher whose position was being discussed.
Reasons given by Bergmann for not renewing Zentz's contract included:
- Poor communication.
- Lack of organization.
- Not adhering to school policies.
- A belief that the district could hire a better choir instructor.
When Zentz was allowed to speak, he read a letter addressed to Moffat County School Board and administrators.
Part of his letter read:
"The administration has told you that I am not a good fit for the district. Perhaps," he said. "I want you to know, however, that I was not hired to be 'a good fit.' I was hired to teach children to sing. That is something I do very well."
He then made references to the accomplishments he has made in his two years of teaching, including his students' jazz choir performance at the Olympics and the choir performance at Carnegie Hall. He also said there has been a twofold increase in participants in honor choir this year over last year, which was his first year at the school.
About 10 students dressed in choir robes were present at the meeting to support Zentz, and about the same amount of adults.
One audience member stood and interrupted the discussion, asking if she could address the board.
Board President Phil Hastings said no.
Before the process began, Hastings had told the audience that what was about to follow was not a hearing.
After the decision was made, and the afternoon session of the school board meeting was adjourned, Zentz thanked his supporters as they filed out.
"I'm not surprised at all," he said of the board's decision. "They don't need a reason because I'm probationary."
He again made reference to the fact that twice as many students this year were recognized on the all-state honor choir.
"I was hired to do a job and I did that job," he said. "I think the results bear that out."
He said he believed his contract was not renewed because he did not agree with many of the school's policies and was not afraid to express his disapproval.
"I don't agree with their decision and I don't think they'll find a better music teacher," he said. "They might find someone who fits in better."
Katie Zwernik, a ninth-grade member of concert choir and one of the students in the front two rows wearing a choir robe, had her hand raised during Bergmann's recommendation during the vote.
She was disappointed with the board's decision.
"I was here to support Mr. Zentz and see if they would reconsider his contract," she said after the meeting. "I was disappointed they wouldn't hear us out."
When she and her fellow students, who supported their teacher, caught word of what was happening Friday, they began to circulate a petition.
She said 33 students signed the petition.
"I feel he has done so much for our choir and we had good potential for the future," she said. "I don't think he can be replaced."
Senior Leah Williamson, president of the concert choir, said those making the recommendations and decisions should have heard from the students.
"They're on the outside looking in," she said. "They should have given us a chance to show that Mr. Zentz is a great teacher. We've come a long way here."
The fact that they sat in the audience wearing their robes said it all, she said.
"If he wasn't a great teacher, we wouldn't have been here in our choir robes to support him," she said. "We hate these robes."
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.