Community members have been left feeling uncomfortable once again since a packed January 8, 2016 Caldwell School District board meeting where two trustees, Chairman Charles Stout and Vice Chairman Tom Briten, exhibited off-putting behavior. An edited version of this 3 hour 19 minute meeting in January has emerged highlighting a pattern of questionable behavior.
Caldwell School District is one of only a handful of districts statewide that video records and publicly archives board meetings. The purpose of the special board meeting last month was to review applicants and decide on replacements for two trustees recalled last November.
Unfortunately, review of film from multiple board meetings indicates that this isn’t a one-time issue of inappropriate board behavior. While disagreement is certainly to be expected with any board, the behavior exhibited within the video demonstrates a lack of civil dialogue and professionalism that would be expected by the community’s leaders.
The three plus hour film is available to the public to watch, in full, online through the Caldwell School District YouTube account; however, an edited, bite-size synopsis of the same meeting highlighting multiple examples of poor behavior exhibited by some members of the board has also been generated.
Concerns about misbehavior at the January 8 meeting revolve around several issues. Chairman Stout and Vice Chairman Briten repeatedly attempted to prohibit fellow Trustee Travis Manning from interviewing trustee candidates. Despite the fact that patrons testified at the meeting regarding their concern about trustee candidates’ possible involvement in the recent recall election, Stout and Briten attempt to silence Manning when he gave voice to these concerns while interviewing applicants.
For example, Lisa Bevington was a candidate that evening for appointment to one of the vacant trustee seats; she was also involved in the recall effort and collected dozens of patron signatures. This was precisely the conflict patrons and Manning were concerned with, and why Manning was so persistent in his line of questioning to each of the trustee candidates. Unfortunately, each time Manning attempted express this concern by asking difficult questions, other members of the board interfered with the queries.
To make this connection clear, here are copies of the petition to recall Amy Rojas: Note Lisa Bevington’s name and signature as the canvasser at the bottom of the documents indicating her involvement with the recall election.
Beyond the issue of unwarranted reticence of Manning’s questions, the general tone and demeanor of some board members clearly doesn’t meet the behavior expectations one would expect in Caldwell classroom, let alone the board room of the Caldwell School District. Talking over colleagues, making disparaging remarks, and literally threatening to end the public meeting to prevent a trustee from asking tough questions that patrons wanted answered should not be protocol for our community’s leaders.
The meeting minutes make it abundantly clear that the patrons who testified prior to the candidate interviews were concerned about transparency of candidates during the selection process; the line of questioning Manning asked was precisely related to these patrons’ concerns. See section V on pages 1-2 for patron comments.
Caldwell School District employees and patrons deserve a professional school board. The board sets the tone for the entire district so it’s imperative they provide sustained, positive leadership; this is true not only for the employees of the district, but more importantly for the children who attend Caldwell schools and the patrons who contribute to the district.
The Caldwell School District is currently seeking applicants for its new superintendent and the misbehavior of this board leadership may put at risk attracting highly qualified superintendent applicants. According to the district website, and the January 28 ad hoc search committee agenda, the committee is currently reviewing 16 applications for superintendent. Highly qualified applicants, and ultimately the chosen superintendent, deserve a functional board that handles disagreement with civil discourse.
The next regularly scheduled Caldwell School Board meeting is February 8, 7 p.m., 1502 Fillmore St., Caldwell.
Here is the edited video, highlighting the off-putting behavior:
Here is the original, unedited, three hour video of the board meeting: