September 1, 2014

Divided board terminates superintendent, 2 other administrators

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Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
Special meetings are covered by special rules, USD 231 attorney, Joseph Hatley, told the school board on Feb. 27.
Hatley told the board the Feb. 27 meeting was not legal. At meeting’s close, a narrow majority of board members voted to terminate the contracts of Superintendent Bill Gilhaus, Executive Director of Educational Services Christy Ziegler and the Executive Director of Administrative Services Lana Gerber.
James Repshire, board member, was the first to object to the special meeting and turned to Hatley for his opinion as to the legal status of said meeting.  Hatley said generally speaking, three board members may call a special meeting. All board members are then to be told a date, time and purpose of the meeting.  Hatley went on to explain that in the case of this meeting, the described purpose of personnel issues was not specific enough. Hatley said that he was told by a representative of the Kansas Association of School Boards that Rob Shippy, board member, had been put on notice and advised to review the meeting purpose description.
Shippy explained that was not what KASB told him.  Numerous times during the meeting Shippy and Tresa Boden, board member, asked to get a KASB attorney on the phone for a conference call.  Repshire said he still did not know why the meeting was called, but that evidently the 50 people in attendance must know something he didn’t.
Boden said she did not agree, as 90 percent of the agendas she had received for typical meetings describe the executive session discussion simply as personnel issues.
Hatley explained that this is a special meeting and “special meetings are covered by special rules.”
He told board members that according to Kansas statute, the meeting could only continue with a unanimous vote. Boden pointed out to Hatley what he was saying was his interpretation, his opinion and he had been wrong in the past, referring to his interpretation of the appointment process board members used in late 2013 to appoint Boden and board member Mary Nelson to the board last year.
Shippy and Boden said they had consulted with a KASB attorney, who informed them that to hold the meeting it was only necessary to have four members’ approval.  If the board was not willing to put this to a vote, the meeting could continue with a fourth board member signing a waiver acknowledging approval to continue with the meeting.
Boden said KASB attorneys work day in and day out with schools on legal matters. Hatley said he too has experience with multiple school districts and has never lost a case. Nelson told Hatley that she did not feel he was representing the board properly in this matter.
Repshire said he objected to the meeting, because his life experience had taught him that knee-jerk reaction decisions were not good.  Had he been given a more detailed description of the nature of the personnel issues to be discussed, he would have been better prepared to make a decision.
Board member Brad Chandler said he did not understand why Repshire was participating in a meeting he was opposed to.
“It’s not important for you to understand,” Repshire said.
Board members Shippy, Boden, Mary Herbert, Nelson and Chandler were in favor of continuing the meeting.  Repshire was opposed.  Mark Grannell, board president, who initially chose to abstain from the vote, finally indicated that he was opposed.  By a vote of 5 to 2, the meeting continued, and the agenda was approved.
Members agreed to hold a 10-minute executive session to determine if the purpose of the meeting was actually an executive session topic.  Multiple extensions were announced and approximately an hour-and-a-half later the public meeting reconvened.
Shippy moved to terminate the contracts of the superintendent, the executive director of educational services and the executive director of administrative services.  Boden seconded and four of seven members agreed to terminate the contracts. Herbert, Grannell and Repshire opposed the terminations.
Before a motion could be made to adjourn, Shippy moved to appoint Director of Secondary Education Pam Stranathan as interim superintendent. The motion carried, 4-3, with the same three board members opposing the move.
Hatley informed the board that the vote just taken was likely not legal.

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