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Home » Archives » January 2011 » Controversy Continues Around School Board Action

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01/24/2011: "Controversy Continues Around School Board Action"

A second public meeting on San Juan Island was held on Thursday evening to continue to discuss “the way forward” now that the San Juan Island School Board has accepted the resignation of a popular elementary school principal.

The momma and papa bears are growling protectively for what they believe is best for their young, and some fangs are still being shown to those who think they know best what is best.

ig_SJISD_PublicMeet_Principal-001 (74k image)
(file photo of Saturday public meeting at the Mullis Center At the last public meeting on Thursday night at the Mullis Center the idea of a no-confidence vote failed to move forward, perhaps due to the continuing participation of school board member Brent Snow, who (the Board chair did not attend any of the meetings) has consistently shown up at all the meetings to respond to questions and concerns thrown at him in the ad-hoc public meetings.

At both the Saturday and Thursday meetings Snow repeatedly asked those in attendance to run for one of the three positions that will be up in November; even going so far as to handing out information on how to register as a candidate. At this point it seems clear that the board positions open in November will be challenged.

For some of the parents November is a distance too far, and calls for the resignation of the board, or at least the chairman, who, for whatever reason seems to be the name that keeps coming up as one of, if not the prime, suspect as to why the embattled principal submitted a resignation to the Board.

If any one Board member decides the community no longer supports them, and steps down, it would be the remaining board members who would appoint a new board member. The fear here of course is that they would simply appoint a like thinking replacement.

In the unlikely event that all of the board members were to step down, SJC Elections Supervisor Doris Schaller said RCW 28A.343.370 requires the Educational Service District board members (a state board) to appoint a new quorum of members which would then have the job of appointing the rest of the board, all of whom wound have to stand for election in November.

This would at least clear the air, since there would be a new board that could look at the issue anew, with the benefit of the knowledge of how strongly so many of the parents, teachers, staff, and yes, even the students, wish the Board to reject the principal’s letter of resignation.

In addition to the calls for a no-confidence petition, a mass resignation, there was some discussion on starting a re-call effort. This brought up the issue of legality of some board actions, including possible violations of the open meetings act,

One concern is that "action" would have taken place in one or more of the executive sessions if the board members arrived at a consensus, or in any way agreed to a collective decision; even if a vote was not taken, it would still be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, since a final action does not always require a formal vote.

As for a recall, one can be initiated by any single voter by charging and filing that an elected official has “committed an act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office or has violated his or her oath of office.”

However, according to the MRSC (Municipal Research and Services Center of Wasnington) -in simple terms- no recall can move forward unless a judge reviews and finds the charges are sufficient to allow the recall to proceed. Not unlike a trial, the judge is going to have to be convinced there is sufficient evidence to allow a recall election.

If a recall is filed, the court may reject the claim, or it may allow the gathering of the required number of signatures required to put the matter to the voters.

What is striking about the school board action is the admitted absence of legal review of the proposed actions by a Board attorney. Both staff and Board members have said no legal counsel was present at any of the executive sessions when there was a review of the principals performance; and the principal has stated he was not invited to any of the closed sessions to defend or answer any changes against him.

Had he been informed, or invited, state law allows him to be present, and to require the meeting be held as a public session.

All of this, the closed meetings, the lack of legal counsel, adds to the concern the Board may have un-knowingly violated state law, or at the least miss-handled the public process.

The casual approach to holding executive meetings may impress a court that state law has been violated. Most elected boards would be confident they are following law because when exercising the right to hold an executive session they would consult with the board attorney to make sure the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed, but that, according to staff and two individual board members the Island Guardian questioned, was not done, or even discussed as a possibility.

The lack of legal review may turn out to have been a penny wise-and-pound-foolish oversight on the part of the Board and the staff, and it could have easily been avoided.

One participant after the Thursday meeting said a legal review, in combination with a more open and transparent process could have helped communicate with, and dampened the public and staff outcry, and one that everyone, one way or the other, now continues to be paying for.

The next Board meeting is on Wednesday, but the Agenda is not clear what the main topics may be at the meeting.

John Evans
Greg Hertel
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Teresa Smith
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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