New Plymouth appears poised to re-do superintendent hire

The New Plymouth School Board appears poised to declare it violated Idaho’s open meeting law and re-do its superintendent’s hire, following a legal complaint filed last month by Idaho Education News.

According to a meeting agenda emailed to EdNews, the board planned to take action Thursday night on an item that reads “declaration of violation of open meeting laws with self correction declaring prior action void.”

Also on the agenda is an item that reads, “consideration of superintendent hire and contract ratification.”

The board meeting was originally scheduled for Monday evening. But on Monday morning, EdNews alerted the district that it had failed to post on its website an agenda 48 hours before the meeting, as a new state law requires. Consequently, the board pushed the meeting back to 6 p.m. Thursday night. A new agenda was posted early Tuesday afternoon.

The new Idaho law states “the notice for meetings and agenda shall also be posted electronically.” EdNews found at least 60 other districts that appear to not be following Idaho’s new law because they are holding meetings this week without posting the agendas on their websites.

Originally, Idaho EdNews filed a complaint June 28 with the Payette and Gem county prosecutors’ offices alleging the board violated open meeting law when it hired David Sotutu during a special meeting June 18.

Idaho open meeting law requires that school boards conduct their business — such as hiring a new superintendent — in public. The law also requires that school boards post a publicly available agenda that specifically itemizes each piece of business it will conduct.

EdNews’ attorney Tim Fleming alleged that the New Plymouth board violated the open meeting law, since the agenda for its June 18 meeting did not mention plans to discuss or vote on a superintendent’s hire.

The agenda indicated the board would meet in executive session to consider a personnel, evaluation or disciplinary matter. But draft minutes of the meeting reflect that the actual purpose of the meeting was to hire a superintendent. Fleming’s complaint also notes that in an email to EdNews, Sotutu says he was offered the superintendent’s job on June 15 — three full days before the board even met to vote on his hiring.

A common way for school boards to address an open meeting concern is to “self-correct” the violation by publicly noticing and re-doing each item of business from the meeting where a violation may have occurred. That appears to be what New Plymouth’s board plans to do this week.

It’s likely the board will agree to again hire Sotutu. Also listed on the agenda: a report from “Superintendent Dave Sotutu.”

An eight-person hiring committee identified four finalists for New Plymouth’s superintendent position. The list included Avery Superintendent Robert Vian, Tina Polishchuk, the State Department of Education’s advanced opportunities coordinator and former Salmon Superintendent Tana Kellogg, according to documents obtained by Idaho EdNews on Thursday from the district through a public records request.

The hiring committee included board chairman Dave Brogan and vice chair Dani Rollins.

The open meeting concern marks the latest bump in the road for New Plymouth, a district that has been mired in controversy this year during a public clash between a former high school principal and the outgoing superintendent.

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