Exasperated!

Public, district administrators and trustees express ongoing frustration with Laurel School Board member
By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Laurel School board failed to come to a unanimous vote on the hiring of Rene Roth as a Middle School volleyball coach after Trustee Mike Creeden cast a dissenting vote at Monday’s trustee meeting. Due to nepotism laws (Roth is the daughter of Board Chairwoman Karen Teeters) a unanimous vote was required to hire Roth. This was the second time the board failed to hire the coach after a 5–1 vote (Teeters was required to abstain).

Now the Middle School is short a volleyball coach due to Creeden’s admitted personal issue with Teeters. At Monday’s meeting he said he reviewed the other applicants and thought they were better qualified. However, of the four candidates, three were hired for other positions and the hiring committee has made the recommendation to hire Roth twice now.

Mistrust between trustees and district administrators was an issue discussed over several board meetings last year and earlier this year regarding whether or not the board had faith in administrators’ hiring recommendations. The issue was settled for the rest of the board but apparently not for Creeden, who at the time said he thought a trustee should sit in on all the interviews for hiring new staff, which was agreed to be unnecessary and unfeasible. The majority of the board thought it was a bad look to not trust the activities director and other administrator decisions and agreed to move forward.

There has been tension on the board between Creeden and fellow trustees and administrators since he was first elected in May 2019.

Since Creeden has been on the board he has filed several complaints against administrators (Superintendent Linda Filpula, Business Manager Donnie McVee, Facilities Director Wayne Fjare and Teeters) and has a pending civil lawsuit against the district.

This summer he refused to participate in discussions over his refusal to vote, refused to vote on the district’s reopening plan and walked out of a meeting before adjournment. Creeden also made it clear that he holds a grudge against Teeters, going so far as to point at her at a recent meeting and tell her she was the reason he wasn’t voting on an item. “It’s personal against her,” he said.

Creeden had claimed because he resides in the elementary district he shouldn’t vote on high school action items, which is contrary to state law. According to Section 20– 3–351 of the MCA, “A trustee who resides in the elementary district is a member of the high school board and will be expected to vote and participate in all matters before the board of trustees during a school board meeting.”

Complaints have come from other school district administrators outside of Laurel as well.

Joliet Schools Superintendent Allison Evertz wrote a letter to Filpula in May (when the board meetings had gone virtual) about Creeden logging into Joliet’s School Board meeting while the Laurel trustee meeting was in session. “When Mr. Creeden boldly logged into the Joliet School Board meeting, he was in the middle of running operations, or attempting to be a board member in Laurel. His entry created enough distraction that I had to call him out on the matter in front of 34 Joliet participants.”

Evertz continued:

“School board members are chosen by the public to take the needs of students and implement those into a vision that supports student achievement. In hindsight of this evening’s shenanigans, I’m not sure Mr. Creeden has either District’s best interests at heart. For this reason, your Laurel School Board Members deserve to know that he does not have the District’s undivided attention while making pertinent decisions.”

At the end of Monday’s meeting, two members of the public expressed their frustration with Creeden’s behavior and questioned his motivations for being on the school board.

Regarding the board’s failure to approve Roth as volleyball coach, Trustee Cindy Drake said, “Voting no because of a personal conflict goes against the oath we took. It is hurting our children’s education.”

Trustee Kami Maack, who’s husband Creeden voted for as the LHS boy’s soccer coach, asked whether a retreat would be useful to bring to board together in serving the interest of the district. “What is the best thing for our kids?” she asked.

Trustee Brittney Hunter said she didn’t think that was necessary because, “It is just one person who is causing the conflict over and over.”

Middle School Principal Justin Klebe addressed the board as a whole and said he hoped decisions were made on what is best for the district. “It’s about what is the right choice for the district; not for yourself, your kids or your kids’ friends.”

During the discussion, Creeden remained largely silent but said, “Kids are important, but there are other stakeholders.”

In an email to the Outlook Klebe said: “There are about 40+ kids in volleyball. Rene Roth has been volunteering and will continue to volunteer. The impact to the students has been minimum due to the professionalism and integrity of Roth. The problem with her volunteering is that the school doesn’t have a commitment from the volunteer coach, so a volunteer coach can come and go as they please and is not expected to go to games if they do not want to. There is also a lot less oversight on a volunteer, where a hired coach is evaluated on their job performance and through the evaluation process can build the volleyball program to mirror the district’s vision.”

In other business:

• Wendi Graves was hired as assistant volleyball coach at LHS for the 2020–21 school year.

• Brittney Tangen was hired as LHS Special Education Teacher for the 2020– 21 school year.

• Daniel Salveson was hired as Help-Desk and Network Support Technician. 

• Graham Vandehey was hired as Maintenance person for the Laurel School District.

• LaTisha Demarais was hired as a long–term substitute teacher for the Middle School.

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