Hats off to some of USD 231’s newest board members for facilitating open discussion in a public forum.
For too long we’ve watched the Gardner Edgerton School District Board of Education rubber- stamp administrative policies and sly shenanigans with only a nod, so the wide-ranging debate during a board meeting Monday night was a breath of fresh air.
In fact, the debate became so intense the board took a 10-minute break before a finance presentation.
That’s not bad; that’s healthy.
Discussion began regarding the superintendent’s recent lead in the flawed appointment process of two resigning board members: Shelta Collins and Tim Rayburn. Rayburn presided over the appointment process and voted on his successor.
Mary Nelson and Tresa Boden were appointed, and although we believe the process was flawed, these two appear to serve constituents well and are not afraid of debate.
However,  many residents, and this newspaper, believe the superintendent’s process flew in the face of state statute: the board should have led the process, not staff; replacement cannot begin until a vacancy takes places; and Rayburn, if he voted on his successor, had not resigned.
But in USD 231, rules are meant to be broken – or at the very least bent and twisted.
In this district, administration routinely walks the legal edge:
• splitting legal hairs to “educate” and help win a bond issue;
• withholding and controlling the free flow of public information;
• questionable projected enrollment numbers;
• passing district policies with no public notice or debate, including deleting all emails after 24 hours;
• retiring and returning to double-dip in KPERs retirement;
• failing to notify all board members of a letter that could lead to litigation;
• a superintendent’s contract that doesn’t pass the sniff test and;
• initiating a string of emails flying in the face of the Kansas Open Meetings Act discussing a questionable, proposed closed-door meeting.
And anyone who disagrees or asks questions suffers the iron fist of retaliation.
In an attempt to control the message, the district’s leadership have threatened The Gardner News several times, including at the board meeting when President Mark Grannell, without board consensus, directed staff to research another newspaper to be the district’s official newspaper.
It’s the administration’s modus operandi – ask questions, voice an opinion, get punished.
Perhaps they should take a lesson from their own bullying policies.
But the district’s most painful threat – to ourselves and our readers – has been the withholding of “good news” regarding students and achievements. While we would like to again enjoy a working relationship with district building level employees and teachers to provide photos and information for publication, current leadership has made it almost impossible.
That’s sick and sad.
USD 231 students, staff and organizational achievements should be celebrated – not hoarded, meted out in increments and used as a weapon. But it’s not just the newspaper that is threatened.
Look at the revolving door of USD 231 administrators and mid-level staff, or the slate of non-returning teachers who have left.
And patrons suffer the wrath as well.
Most recently Walter Hermreck, who made the “mistake” of asking for public documents that are easily available at other districts, found himself the recipient of a letter written by the district’s attorney denying him information until a disputed charge is paid.
The district’s administration hides behind the law and uses the Kansas Open Records Act as a financial hammer to control information.
State statute does provide for a “reasonable” fee for KORA requests, but, as the district’s own attorney stated in his letter to Hermreck – there has never been a court decision allowing for the withholding of information for an unpaid “bill.”
So we’re encouraged to see four new faces on the BOE that are actively engaged and questioning the process.
Board members need to take steps to control the board appointment policy, so it is aligned with the Kansas Association of School Board policy and the spirit of state statute.
As representatives of the people the board needs to review and correct the policy and quit listening to bureaucratic justification, blame-placing and nonsense.
Although the recent, flawed process seated two viable board members, the heavy-handed meddling of employees should not be tolerated.
Thank you Nelson, Boden, Rob Shippy and Brad Chandler for stepping up to the plate and asking questions.  And a special shout-out to experienced board member Mary Herbert for making her voice heard on behalf of the patrons.