From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 37 - 5/11/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Martha Ptasnik
Martha Ptasnik to Leave Pinedale Learning Center
Board chooses not to renew her contract
by Jennifer Binning

"This is a difficult time for everybody," said Anita Sullivan, Executive Director for the Learning Center, in response to inquiries about why Director Martha Ptasnik's contract was not renewed for next year. "Martha's contribution to the organization has been tremendous, beyond words," she added. Ms. Ptasnik's current contract ends at the end of June.

Ms. Ptasnik says she was asked to come to a meeting at the library last Tuesday, where she was greeted by Ms. Sullivan and the Learning Center's attorney Kate Mead. Ms. Sullivan then told Ms. Ptasnik she had chosen not to renew her contract and that the Board supported Ms. Sullivan's decision.

Ms. Ptasnik says she was given no explanation why this decision was made, stating "it is a mystery to me."

After 21 years of service to the Learning Center, Ms. Ptasnik says she's never had a negative performance evaluation, and claims that she has not been evaluated at all in the past three years. Ms. Sullivan counters that during her tenure for the past two years as the Executive Director, she knows Ms. Ptasnik was indeed evaluated, adding that Ms. Ptasnik was informed of the evaluations and their content.

When pressed for a reason for the non-renewal, Ms. Sullivan replied that on the advice of her attorney, she would not comment. "Even if I could talk about it, I wouldn't. We want to preserve Martha's reputation. No accusations, no recriminations."

Construction on the Learning Center's new $726,000 facility on Franklin Avenue in Pinedale is nearing completion, and just last week the County Commissioners were asked by Ms. Sullivan to begin the process of releasing the $100,000 that they budgeted for the center last year at the request of Ms. Ptasnik.

$289,000 has been raised by private sources to help fund the new building, and as of Wednesday morning, according to Board President Peggy Noble, no donations have been withdrawn as the news of Ms. Ptasniks departure begins to hit the street.

With the removal of Ms. Ptasnik, the Board of the Learning Center faces a situation similar to the Pinedale School Board when they made the decision to not renew the contract of popular elementary school principal Janet Materi last year.

Although the School Board was not advised to stay silent by an attorney, they chose to keep their deliberations and reasoning confidential, thus incurring the wrath of Materi supporters. School Board member Andy Nelson says that in retrospect, the situation was handled correctly, although he is not sure if the abuse he took as a board member was ultimately worth their silence.

The situation is somewhat different with the non-profit Learning Center, which depends on private donations as a large source of their funding. This fact makes the Learning Center much more vulnerable to negative public sentiment.

The Learning Center's attorney Kate Mead of Mead and Mead in Jackson would not return our phone calls, so we contacted local attorney Ed Wood to shed some light into the legal reasoning behind the Boards refusal to comment. Mr. Wood said in an interview on Wednesday that because Ms. Ptasnik was at the end of her contract with the Center, the Board was under no legal obligation to give her a reason for the non-renewal. He adds that the Board is probably maintaining their silence to protect themselves from the possibility of future legal headaches, or to protect Martha and her reputation. "Most of the time, the less said the better," concludes Mr. Wood.

The search for a new director had not yet begun as of Tuesday.

Photo credits:  Joyce Bohm

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