Over the past five months, the Caldwell School District lost its superintendent, its assistant superintendent and two board members.
The remaining trustees might not even have the authority to go into executive session to discuss topics such as student discipline.
So now what?
“I would hope that the community might come together after something like this and begin to heal a bit,” said trustee Travis Manning. “One could argue about the rift that exists and specifically why — regardless, it exists. I think there are a lot of people who might need to forgive and move on.”
Caldwell patrons recalled two of five trustees Tuesday night — board president Leif Skyving and Amy Rojas. They were two of three trustees who voted in June to oust Superintendent Tim Rosandick and deputy superintendent Luci Asumendi. Recall backers have criticized the secrecy surrounding the shakeup.
So now, without permanent leadership and a crippled board, employees and patrons are asking how this all might impact academics.
“We have people every day asking what’s going on in Caldwell? We know what people are saying,” Caldwell’s interim superintendent Jodie Mills said. “But a lot of great things are happening here — a lot of great teaching and learning. We can’t let the adult behavior affect students.”
Mills was the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment until June 15, when she was asked to add Rosandick and Asumendi’s jobs to her list of responsibilities. She also is managing Rosandick and Asumendi, who remain under contract as consultants in 2015-16, collecting salaries of $137,000 and $96,297, respectively.
Mills said district office employees have stepped up to help, but the board turmoil adds another challenge. When asked Wednesday by Idaho Education News if she would step down as interim superintendent, Mills said “not at this point.”
The board has selected a search committee to find a new leader but the process has been bumpy and slow.
What are the board’s next steps?
The ousted trustees remain members of the board until Tuesday’s votes are canvassed, certified and the district receives a notification letter. The Canyon County Elections Office has a 10-day window to perform those tasks. This could be relevant as the board has a regular meeting and budget audit scheduled for Monday, just five days away.
Once the election is verified, the remaining three board members have 90 days to select replacements from Zones 1 and 5. If the board can’t find replacements from within those zones, the board would have an additional 30 days to hunt for candidates from elsewhere in the district.
“We could be without a full board for 120 days,” said Mills.
Manning said there is a bit of a power struggle between some in the community and the district but that he hopes those conflicts will resolve quickly, for the sake of Caldwell’s 6,000 students.
“We will want to do this quickly in order to effectively conduct board business,” Manning said. “It’s no secret there has been conflict on the board the past four years. I would like to make sure the board leads by example and is soft on people, but tough on issues.”
But Manning may not have a lot of say in what happens next. He admits that when he was elected in May he “became the swing vote on a contentious board.” Trustees Chuck Stout and Tom Briten regularly side together, as did Skyving and Rojas. For example, last week Stout and Briten voted against going into an executive session, citing identical reasons. Skyving wanted the executive session to discuss a legal matter but that was denied as the board needed four votes to enter a closed-door meeting. Stout was not available for comment on Wednesday. (Click here to watch video of the meeting).
“I think all board members have much to learn here about improving boardsmanship, including myself,” Manning said. “So, as a board, we have a lot to learn. We have a lot of work ahead.”
Part of that work will be deciding how to do the district’s business with only three board members.
One challenge, according to Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, is that the trio cannot go into executive session. School boards enter closed meetings to discuss personnel, students, lawsuits or confer with an attorney.
Under Idaho’s open meeting law, “an executive session shall be authorized by a two-thirds vote of the governing body.”
Echeverria has advised trustees to be cautious. “Bottom line — no matter the reason or the condition, it takes four affirmative votes to move into executive session if you have a five-member board.”
“According to the attorney general, it’s my understanding it takes four votes,” Echeverria said on Wednesday afternoon. “Business can’t stop, but how do they do it?”
On Wednesday, Idaho Education News contacted Todd Dvorak, a spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Dvorak said he was unable to provide legal clarity.
Caldwell just went through a different recall less than four years ago.
Sheila Harris, an active instigator of the two successful recall efforts this week, was recalled in 2012. The board, which included Stout and Briten, convened a committee to select a replacement, naming Sandy Dodson. She lost her spring election to Manning.
“The community and the district have a lot of important work ahead and we need to continue moving our district forward,” Manning said. “The Caldwell School District is doing great things with training teachers, reaching out to various student populations, academics, athletics. I think we need to get back to focusing a little more on the great kids in Caldwell who desperately need all of our time, attention and energy. Some in the community may have gotten away from this the past six months or so.”