A house divided?
About 75 people gathered Monday evening for a continuation of the drama that is the Frazee-Vergas School Board.
Between accusations between board members, a resignation and a one-person picket, not much business was actually conducted -- but audience members had plenty to see. They did miss out on discussion of teacher cuts until Monday morning, too.
On the agenda for board reports was a statement of opinion by board member Steve Jepson.
Jepson had started reading a statement at last month's meeting about a fellow board member and some accusations she had made against him. He also spoke about Superintendent Deron Stender's performance.
Stender stopped Jepson last month, stating it might be in violation of data privacy issues. This month, Jepson, after checking and being information he was not in violation, was placed on the agenda to continue voicing his opinion.
Board member Nancy Dashner requested the item be removed from the agenda though, stating, "this is board personnel, not day-to-day operation."
Jepson responded that he had gone through the proper channels and wanted to finish speaking.
Board member Dwight Cook said that one board member wasn't able to pull an agenda item, so Jepson was allowed to be left on the agenda.
As the board meeting continued, audience member Gary Krause, from the front row, stated, "I have a problem hearing."
"I'm sorry you have a problem listening," Laine snapped.
Sitting at the end of the table, board member Kathy Kallis, who was added to the agenda, read a statement that she was formally resigning from the board immediately.
Kallis said she could no longer separate her personal feelings from her public duties, and got up and left the room.
The board later discussed appointing another board member. Since there is less than two years left in Kallis' term, the board can appoint someone to the board rather than holding an election.
And throughout the entire meeting, which lasted a little over an hour, a woman sat in full view of the board with sheets of paper that read, "Listen to the students choice. Save Mr. Montplaisir. Without the students there would be no school."
According to an article in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Steve Montplaisir's contract was not renewed due to budget cuts even though he was a tenured teacher in the district.
As a special education teacher, Montplaisir joined the district in 2000, and after being tenured, left in 2006 when he was deployed with the National Guard. When he returned, he taught until 2007, when he resigned to teach in Moorhead. Due to cuts though, his contract was not renewed in Moorhead, so he returned to the Frazee district.
When it came time to cut a special education teacher, Montplaisir was cut because the district says he was the last one hired. Montplaisir said that with already having his tenure status, one of the two teachers who didn't have tenure should have been cut before him.
To add to the mix, one of those newer teachers is Jacqueline Stender, the superintendent's wife.
As the meeting continued, Jepson brought up the four accusations against him. Since he had read two of them last month, he simply continued on with the remaining two on Monday night.
First, he said he was accused of taking rogue actions as a board member and how he handled a complaint he received from the Frazee Forum.
"I was then made aware that Mr. Stender and Mrs. Laine were concerned that my acting alone put the board as a whole at risk," he read.
He replied that Laine raised no concern though when she and possibly Stender acted alone to contact the MSBA concerning his actions rather than discussing it with the board.
Second, Jepson was accused of having a biased role as a board member. He read that Laine had told him she is concerned Jepson cannot separate his role of a board member and that of a teacher, adding that she feels his interest with the board is only in support of the teachers.
Third, Jepson said he was accused of being a micromanager who always looks negatively on Stender. And fourth, he said Laine accused him of compromising his board position by having his wife (in another school district) as a teacher.
Jepson responded that during the school board election, he talked about having a wife as a teacher, two children in the school system and he and his wife being Frazee graduates, and how that qualified him for the job.
He reminded Laine of the election results -- Jepson was the top vote getter out of the 11 candidates -- that obviously the voters didn't see a compromise.
"It is my opinion when the checks and balances of a healthy legislative and executive form of any government is removed, it becomes that of a dictatorship," he said. ""It is my belief that if these divisive actions continue, it will tear apart the communal fabric that holds this school district together."
After Jepson finished reading his statement, Laine said she had two comments to make.
"I thought I was having a private conversation with a new board member," she said. She added that she is supposed to be a mentor to Jepson as a new board member, "which we didn't get to."
Her goal was to guide, not hurt Jepson, she said.
To read the complete statement of Jepson read at the board meetings, see DL-Online.com.
As for the actual business portion of the meeting, the board approved a portion of the proposed cost containments for the 2009-10 school year.
Board member Rich Zeigler made a motion to approve a portion of the proposal involving parking fees, breakfast and lunch fees and district-wide department chairs.
He left out the core class teachers being proposed to be cut for Monday morning after a closed meeting on litigation due to the outcome of that meeting.
He added that he didn't want to put off those in the room who had come to hear discussion on the cuts, but that the outcome of the Monday special meeting could directly affect those positions.
"Procedurally, that's the better way to go," he said.
The closed meeting is scheduled for 7 a.m. Monday morning, and the open meeting is that evening at 6 p.m.