Backed by more than 1,000 online signatures, a local resident requested a closed meeting with the school board to make a case for firing Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes during the public comment period of Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Blaine County School District’s board of trustees.
Barbara Browning of Hulen Meadows rode a wave of disaffected remarks to present the trustees with the weight of her Change.org petition to call a vote of no confidence for Holmes. Browning launched the petition during a “crisis meeting” called to voice criticism and address alleged failures of district leadership on June 3.
“Each one of you should be on the record, expressing confidence or no confidence in our superintendent,” Browning told the trustees Tuesday. “It is the community members who are speaking. Are you listening?”
Browning backed her verbal request with an email to the board Wednesday afternoon. Her petition seeks to fire Holmes with cause prior to the start of the next school year, citing a “waste of taxpayer dollars” on legal fees, “consolidation of power,” “ignoring the community” and “questionable ethics.” Firing Holmes with cause would avoid paying a severance package in her contract amounting to one year’s salary, worth around $180,000 next fiscal year. Holmes predecessor, Lonnie Barber, received a $600,000 settlement when his contract was terminated with three years remaining in 2013.
“There is growing evidence that Dr. Holmes is increasingly—and intentionally—disconnected from parents, teachers, staff and community members,” Browning wrote in the petition. “Despite her claims of ‘public input on school matters,’ she routinely ignores community requests, ignores results of public surveys, and ignores or incorrectly applies state law on Open Meetings and Public Records.
“This is her very first job as a Superintendent, and her uncooperative attitude, disdain for public feedback, and silencing of teachers shows she does not know how to operate in a district that cherishes transparency and values the public’s voice.”
Holmes herself responded in a statement emailed to media prior to Browning’s request Tuesday night.
“From the beginning, I’ve heard that the people of Blaine County don’t trust how decisions are made and believe that a vocal minority disproportionately impact decisions,” she said. “I’ve worked to ensure that all voices are heard and to provide transparency in decision making. Our students need examples of adults who can disagree, see each other’s points of view and work together.
“Our community can accomplish anything by working together and I look forward to being part of this effort over the next few years. I’m committed to the students and staff of Blaine County schools.”
District policy “advises” that members of the public bring complaints through “proper channeling,” but allows patrons to meet directly with trustees. Fearing retaliation against the signatories, Browning asked that the requested meeting occur without the board clerk or superintendent. And, citing policy regarding complaints against employees, she requested that it be closed to the public.
In a separate discussion during the meeting Tuesday, Holmes herself agreed.
“I think you address it in executive session, because it’s a personnel issue,” Holmes told the board.
Acting board Chairwoman Ellen Mandeville could call that meeting herself, or at the request of multiple trustees. On Wednesday, she said she wasn’t sure whether the board would set the meeting or not.
“I need to find out if the rest of the trustees have interest,” Mandeville said, adding that she intends for the board to “pursue every reasonable request.”
Clayton, who was ousted by his peers as board chairman Tuesday, told the Idaho Mountain Express that he supported the meeting.
“The volume of signatures merits it,” he said. “You get over 1,000? That’s a serious chunk of the population.”
On Thursday morning, Trustee Kevin Garrison said he’d like to honor the multiple requests made by constituents—not just Browning’s. But, he’d rather do it in public.
“I think they all need to be considered,” Garrison said. “For Barbara in particular, I would like to see that meeting presented in open session—including the names of individuals, because in my years on the board, I have never been shown evidence of retaliation. We’re always looking for first-person experiences, not just rumor and innuendo.”