ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Rochester School Board unanimously voted Tuesday evening, Dec. 8, to suspend Superintendent Michael Muñoz for five days in response to a plagiarized letter he sent to the district's staff members over Thanksgiving.
School Board Chairwoman Deborah Seelinger said the board will work with the district's attorney to draft a letter to the superintendent, outlining the specifics of the suspension. She said the superintendent will go without pay for that period, or have his salary reduced by an equivalent amount.
"I think the board had a good discussion amongst ourselves, (and) a good discussion with the superintendent," Seelinger said. "I think that the resolution will speak for the full board. It was passed unanimously."
The School Board approved a one-year contract extension for Muñoz in September, which lasts through June 2022. According to the contract, Muñoz's salary for that year will be $228,300. At the time, RPS Executive Director of Communications Heather Nessler said Muñoz's contract extension includes identical language to his existing contract except for the dates, meaning that is also the amount of his existing salary.
Nessler said Muñoz's daily rate is $878. That means the five-day suspension will represent a loss of $4,390 for Muñoz.
Nessler released a statement on the superintendent's suspension:
"In adopting the motion, the School Board underscored that plagiarism is serious, unacceptable, and cannot happen again. The School Board recognizes that Superintendent Muñoz’s conduct has had an impact on the community, staff members, and the educational system as a whole," Nessler said in the statement. "At the same time, the School Board recognizes that even effective leaders make mistakes, and that part of being an effective leader is owning your mistakes."
Forum News Service reached out to Muñoz through Nessler for comment.
In addition to the suspension and pay reduction, board members Cathy Nathan and Don Barlow will work with the superintendent on a "public restorative practices plan."
Nessler said that both the suspension letter and the restorative practices plan will be made available to the public once they are completed. Barlow said they have yet to determine what the restorative process will include. Barlow said he and Nathan were two of several board members who volunteered for the roles in the restorative process.
"We see value in the superintendent," Barlow said. "We obviously see some areas of need that exist, and we're willing to work with him to guide him in that process."
Nathan said she does not want to comment on the situation until she has a chance to meet with the superintendent.
News of the plagiarized letter was first reported in the news outlet Med City Beat. Muñoz subsequently acknowledged and apologized for plagiarizing the letter. He said it would only "come across as making excuses" to try to explain why he chose to do so.
Muñoz made his apology Nov. 30. The school board held a meeting Dec. 1, which did not include any personnel issues on the agenda. During the Dec. 8 meeting when the board voted on the suspension, the personnel matter was the only item listed on the agenda. Seelinger said the delay was a matter of scheduling so that the district's attorney could be present for the discussion. Barlow reiterated that, saying the delay did not represent a reluctance to take action on the issue.
"The School Board appreciates that Superintendent Muñoz has acknowledged and owned his mistake," Nessler said in her statement. "With the steps that have been taken and the restorative practices plan that will be put into place, the School Board has every confidence that Superintendent Muñoz has learned from this incident and will continue to be an effective leader for the District."