Hunter sworn in as new trustee dissent continues

Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Brittani Hunter

Brittani Hunter

Brittani Hunter was sworn in as a trustee to replace former school board chairman Kirby Ostler at Monday’s trustee meeting. Hunter was a candidate in the school board election last spring. The Residential Sales Manager at Coldwell Banker the Brokers has two children in the Laurel School District and is, Vice President of Communications for the Laurel Elementary PTA.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Laurel Middle School Principal Justin Klebe responded to an opinion piece by trustee Michael Creeden printed in last week’s Outlook where he had claimed the board “willingly [gave] away their powers to consolidate it all in one position: the Superintendent,” and “the board gives all power for hiring all employees directly to the superintendent.”

Klebe called the opinion misleading. “It’s the furthest thing from the truth [to claim] that one person is making the decisions. It’s not just [Superintendent] Linda [Filpula] and her agenda. The hiring process is driven by committee.”

Then a lengthy discussion ensued, again, over school board protocols, procedures and expectations, including concerns over trustee misuse of the superintendent’s time.

Trustee Karen Teeters questioned the abuse of the superintendent’s time by a board member wanting to express questions, concerns and complaints. Filpula said there was a chain of command where question are funneled through the board chair to the superintendent. “I want to be respectful to everyone but I can’t answer to all seven members. This is spelled out in the policy,” she said.

Then the discussion turned to policies addressing trustee visits to the district schools and establishing boundaries to avoid crossing the line where the visits become micro–managing “spot-checks.”

Trustee Mike Longbottom said, “As individuals we cannot act on behalf of the school board. This can get the district and ourselves into trouble and can open the district to lawsuits. We need to be courteous and respectful of everyone’s time.”

As the meeting eventually got to the consent agenda, Creeden again took issue with the hiring process in regards to the hiring of a Middle School science teacher, and the topic was opened to discussion.

At a prior board meeting, the board declined to hire a head cheer coach recommended through the hiring committee process. At the next board meeting three of the four dissenting voters (Trustees Roy Voss, Dale Ahrens and Cody McNiven) admitted to making a poor decision and agreed, along with Teeters, Longbottom (and former chairman Ostler) to continue to put their trust in the school administrators and the established process.

Creeden’s objection drew impassioned responses from school administrators, the hiring committee and district teachers in favor of the process

and the teacher’s qualifications.

One commentator questioned hiring a teacher with a provisional teaching license, but seven spoke in favor of the hire. Members of the hiring committee stated the teacher was the best candidate of the four ap- plicants and had full confidence they would be an asset to the district.

After a 5–2 vote, Deryk Russell was hired for the LMS 7th grade Science position, with Creeden and McNiven casting dissenting votes.

In other business:

• The board approved the Owner Contractor Agreement between the Laurel School District and Yellowstone Basin Construction for the Laurel High School Sports Performance Facility. Construction on the new weight room will be underway this month.

• The board approved mem- bership in the Montana Cooperative Services for 2019–20 and requested waiving the membership dues. District Business Manager Donnie McVee said Dave Puyear, executive director of MCS, would waive the $1,200 fee if the board approved the district joining the co–op.

• The board approved the adoption of the Resolution Relating to General Obligation Refunding Bond and authorized the issuance and Private Negotiated Sale Thereof to an Underwriter and/or a bank. The resolution allows the district to move forward in the process to refinance the school bonds at a significant savings.

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