McClellan: Gilbert Public Schools board agenda policy detrimental to district employees - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

McClellan: Gilbert Public Schools board agenda policy detrimental to district employees

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 5:45 am

Imagine that you are a loyal employee of the a school district, giving that district almost 20 years of service, first as an outstanding teacher and then as a district worker.

Then your career is abruptly upended.

First a blog prints charges against anonymous employees ¬— but obviously targeted at you, among others — charges that were never verified; in fact, some charges even being dismissed by an independent investigator.

But that’s just a start of your misery, because you are caught up in a second investigation brought forth by complaints from a former employee about the working conditions in the office you work in. This investigation ends because the investigator, despite calling the employee and sending emails to that person, never gets in contact with the employee.

End of story, right?

Not even close. Because now, having resigned from the district after having gone on leave, you apply for a teaching position for which you are highly qualified. And the principal of that school and the superintendent of the district recommend you for that job, a job that is difficult to fill because of its specialty.

You get the job, end of story, right?

Not even close. Because — for whatever reason — three school board members vote to take your name off the hiring list, a list the board must approve as the final step in the hiring process.

Now, why did the three vote against you? One doesn’t give a reason, one gives a bogus reason, and the third asks the new superintendent to conduct a further investigation.

Of what? Apparently, of the investigation that ended abruptly, the one that is not about you but about the employee who didn’t respond to the investigator’s contacts.

So what happens?

Apparently, the new superintendent examines the situation and decides to place your name back on the list for hiring. And the mayor of your town emails a glowing recommendation of you to the board, pleading with them to hire you. And a board member emails the board member in charge of the agenda, demanding your name be placed on the list of new hires.

But the board member who controls the meeting agenda chooses to ignore the email, as well as the mayor’s and the superintendent’s recommendations, and deliberately leaves your name off the list.

Which means?

With school less than two weeks away, you don’t have a job, and the kids at the school that wanted to hire you will not have a teacher for that class, unless the district can suddenly find one.

Pretty crazy story, right?

Except it happened. Right here in Gilbert.

This exact scenario, blow by blow.

Now, you might ask, “How could this happen, how could one board member on a board of five prevent even a vote on hiring a well-qualified, highly recommended former employee for this job?”

The answer: New rules.

In the past, the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board president would meet with the superintendent to hash out the agenda for each meeting. The specific policy read this way: “The superintendent will prepare board meeting agendas in consultation with the board president.“

But then, the board majority of Staci Burk, Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin reversed the order of the sentence, and in doing so, gave one person almost dictatorial authority over agendas:

“The board president will prepare board meeting agendas in consultation with the superintendent.”

Which means? Now, the board president — one of five members — controls completely what will be on an agenda. Or in the teacher’s case, who won’t be on the agenda.

Because when the employee’s name came up again for recommendation, Daryl Colvin — taking Board President Burk’s place in her absence — refused to put the teacher’s name on the agenda, effectively ending the chances of the teacher to be hired.

This despite the mayor of Gilbert, John Lewis, writing he has, “seen [the employee’s] excellent performance in various positions during her 19 years in the school district. She taught many of the Lewis children and inspired them to use their skills in new ways that helped them excel later in life. Several other parents have made similar comments to me over the years of their appreciation for [her] efforts to assist their children. ... Her talents and creativity are assets to the district. She is extremely dedicated with a strong work ethic and has unique abilities to enthuse those around her to exceed their own expectations.”

But now, thanks to our board majority, one person — the board president — can stop the hiring of any employee by simply removing that person’s name from a list of hires or renewals and can control, exclusive to the rest of the board, the agenda for each meeting.

Some greeted this with applause, including candidate for the board Ron Bellus, who said this:

“The power to control the agenda is the power to control the creation of policy. Creating policy is the constitutionally mandated responsibility of the elected board members. Thankfully, that is back in the hands of those elected by the people to represent us on the school board.”

Mr. Bellus is mistaken. Thanks to the vote of Staci Burk, Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin, creating policy is now in the hands of one person. All board members are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

George Orwell couldn’t have said it better.

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