Our view: School board division is concerning
May 31, 2016
A division on the Steamboat Springs School Board has surfaced and recently resulted in a 2-2 standoff over a negotiated employee compensation plan.
All five members of the school board need to find a way to work together for the benefit of students.
A split on the Steamboat Springs School Board has developed, and in our opinion, the division could negatively impact the district if our elected school officials don't find a way to bridge their differences, put aside political agendas and work to ensure students and their education come first.
In the wake of a contentious election last November, tension between new and old board members has been simmering.
Last Monday, the division came to a head in a 2-2 vote that may send a negotiated employee compensation plan back to the bargaining committee. The tie vote came after Board President Margaret Huron recused herself from the vote because her daughter is a teacher and a member of the bargaining committee. Board member Joey Andrew also disclosed his sister was a teacher in the district but he did not recuse himself from the vote. Andrew and Roger Good voted against the plan, and Michelle Dover and Sam Rush voted in favor of it.
In our opinion, both Huron and Andrew should have recused themselves from the vote or neither of them should have, and we believe those actions should have been taken only after the board consulted with their legal counsel about the issue.
Now, we have a situation where a year's worth of work by the collaborative bargaining committee is stalled due to school board conflict, teachers are left at the end of the school year feeling as if their school board doesn't support them, and we don't think this is how a school board should operate.
The collaborative bargaining process is conducted openly through a series of public meetings where all parties have a seat at the table. The school finance director, the superintendent, the human resources director, a school board representative, individual teachers and members of the Steamboat Springs Education Association are all represented at these meetings. Members of the public are also welcome to attend and observe.
Steamboat Today education reporter Teresa Ristow was present at all the collective bargaining meetings this year and reported on them. Because of the public nature of these negotiations, there is no closed-door maneuvering and no surprises.
Members of the school board knew they would be voting on the negotiated pay plan Monday, and it must have appeared to the parties involved that the majority of the board would approve it or the plan would never have advanced out of the collaborative bargaining meetings.
On top of our concerns over Good's and Andrew's votes against the 2016-17 pay plan, we were also disturbed about a behind-the-scenes action Good apparently made surrounding a discussion of medical marijuana also on last Monday night's agenda.
At the meeting, Good called up a panel of experts from the audience to discuss the issue. According to Good, these experts, which included the police chief, the sheriff, a pediatrician and the owner of a medical marijuana store, just happened to attend the board meeting because they knew a discussion of medical marijuana was on the agenda.
And while we think the panel provided valuable information on the topic, we don't think the process of having them speak at the meeting was fully transparent. Rather than one board member inviting people to speak at the meeting, it would have been better policy to talk to the other board members about hosting a panel discussion on the topic and getting that discussion and a list of experts who would be speaking placed on the board agenda in advance of the meeting.
Instead, the impromptu panel discussion made other school members feel blindsided and added to the growing division.
We don't expect the school board to agree on every issue or vote unanimously on motions, but we do expect our elected leaders to conduct business in an above-board manner with the best interests of the school district in mind.
One of the board's jobs is to make sure Steamboat retains its standing as one of the state's top school districts, and that could be jeopardized if teacher morale is low and the school board is dysfunctional.
Maybe it's time for our school board members to, once and for all, publicly profess ties to teachers unions or connections to certain political movements if they exist and then move on. The election is over, and we want to see progress, not partisan wrangling.
These five individuals were elected by voters to lead the school district, and it's their job to figure out a way to work together for the benefit of our students, our teachers, our school district and the taxpayers.