By Carol Stiffler
The Engadine Consolidated Board of Education voted last Wednesday night not to renew the contract of their relatively new music director, Nicole Gustafson. At the same meeting, Gustafson alleged that Superintendent Andrew Alvesteffer had made several “inappropriate contacts” with her.
Gustafson was hired by the district on a probationary contract for the start of the 2021-2022 school year, pulling her away from a similar role at Three Lakes Academy. She replaced popular band teacher Casey Snyder, who had taken a job elsewhere.
Conflict surfaced quickly. Near the close of her first year at Engadine, members of the public learned that the board was being asked not to renew her probationary contract because band students had dwindled and her effectiveness was called into question. Guests packed the June 2022 school board meeting to speak out in her favor, and after a roll call vote, the board voted 5-1 to renew her contract for another year.
Last week, the board voted 6-1 to let her go. After June 30, 2023, Gustafson will no longer be employed by the district.
The circumstances of this year’s board meeting were much like last year’s. More than 40 people packed into the meeting room, and many spoke to Gustafson’s credit as a musician and teacher. Two people, one a current Engadine student and the other a mother with two students at Engadine, told the board Gustafson had made their band experience stressful and draining. All three of those students, plus several others, quit band, saying they found it stressful and draining.
All of this came just days after Gustafson’s spring music program, held Sunday, April 16, which was widely seen as a success despite the small number of high school band students at the performance.
At the board meeting, Alvesteffer showed the downward trajectory of the number of students who want to take band with Gustafson, saying there may be as few as five high school band students next year.
When it was her turn to speak, Gustafson began to read a written statement that alleges Alvesteffer made “inappropriate contacts” with her, and after she declined to involve him in her personal life, sought to have her fired. She requested the board place Alvesteffer on immediate paid leave pending an investigation into his behavior.
When her comments got personal just moments into her statement, Alvesteffer moved the meeting into closed session and the public had to step outside.
Larry Gabka, UniServe director for the Michigan Education Association union, to which Gustafson belongs, attended and recorded the meeting. He stayed during the closed session portion but turned his camera off.
When the board returned to open session, they completed a roll call vote to give a “non-renewal with unsatisfactory performance” to Gustafson. Board Treasurer Marjorie Nelson cast the only vote against the motion.
“Before you adjourn, I would like to point out that you had an employee that made a formal complaint of harassment, and then you immediately turned and fired her,” Gabka told the board at the close of the meeting.
“There was no mention of fired, just non-renewal of contract,” replied Board President Daryl Schroeder.
Gustafson’s next steps are unclear, but she and Gabka are discussing the possibility of filing a grievance or a lawsuit against the district.