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School board tables proposal to downsize

Modified: Monday, Apr 14th, 2014

Newly-named Aspen Elementary School Principal Somer Moore addresses the board of directors for Uinta County School District No. 1 last Tuesday, April 8, in Evanston. Moore outlined several programs the school is working on to help students who have fallen behind catch up so they’re not behind year after year. (HERALD PHOTO/Bryon Glathar)

EVANSTON — The board of trustees for Uinta County School District No. 1 tabled last week a motion to remove two seats on the board, citing the need for more public input before the decision is made.

But one citizen, who addressed the board last Tuesday, questioned the legality of such a maneuver.

“Past history shows us that elected officials can’t be removed from office without voter approval,” Kerry McIntyre wrote in a letter to board members.

He said this isn’t the first time the board has considered downsizing and said under the legal watch of previous school board attorney Mark Harris, it was determined that voters must be involved in the decision.

Harris said he doesn’t remember the specifics of that decision — which occurred several years ago — and he said the idea of downsizing was addressed two or three times while he worked for the district. He said he doesn’t remember anything tying the decision to downsize to a ballot measure.

“I do remember there is a timeline if you are doing it in an election year,” he told the Herald.

School board chair Kim Bateman said the law allows for the board itself to increase or decrease its size, to a certain extent.

“State statute permits school boards to consist of five, seven or nine members,” Bateman wrote in a letter to the Herald. “As a school board, we are elected by the voters. We do our best to represent the voters. It is rare for voters in the United States to make decisions with respect to specific issues. Most of the decisions made by U.S. governmental entities are made by voted representatives.”

David Bennett initiated conversation concerning the number of members at the March 25 meeting, which led to it becoming an agenda item at last week’s meeting on Tuesday, April 8, where he made the motion to downsize the nine-member board to seven trustees.

“I’ve been in this district for 22, 23 years,” Bennett said. “I’ve been in five other school districts, and not once have I ever seen nine school board members. … I think seven is a large number in itself. Sometimes, as we sit here, it’s hard to see to the end of the table.”

Bennett said he’s been talking to the public, who, he said, supports a smaller board of directors.

Other board members substantiated that claim.

“Everyone that’s talked to me has said it should be either seven or five,” Jenny Welling, who seconded Bennett’s motion, said.

Mark Madia said he’s received a couple of e-mails supporting a downsizing of the board.

Monika Anson said she’s also received e-mails from community members who support the move from nine to seven members.

“I’ve heard from the community and people have asked me why there are nine members,” she said. “I don’t know. It was one of the questions I had when I first got on the board.”

Anson said it was something she questioned — until she spoke to district employees.

“I have had teachers make comments to me saying, ‘I don’t feel like I would be represented if it is reduced to the seven members.’ So, I have served on this board — this will be my fifth year — I have not seen any problems related to [having nine members]. … I have not had as many negative comments of there being nine as I have positive.”

Bob Faddis opposed the change, saying, “Like I said at the last meeting — more power in fewer hands is not a good thing.”

Bateman said she’s never had a problem working with a board of nine members.

“That being said, I’m not opposed to reducing it to seven members, but I do think that we need more time to discuss it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something to rush through to get done before the [election deadline of May 15] to make it work for the elections that are coming up for five members.”

She also thought it wise not to rush the process to address concerns Kerby Barker brought up at the meeting, including nepotism.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with those that are serving — I want to make that clear — but I’ve always felt there’s conflict of interest (for board members) to have direct family members associated with the district,” Barker said.

He said when he was first elected, there were four or five such instances of board members’ family members working for the district.

He said he appreciates working with Bennett and Fackrell — each of whom have family members working for the district — but “I’m not sure how to approach that because I’m not after either one of their positions. … I’m not opposed to them being on the board, but if we’re going to reevaluate this policy, then I want to interject that change into the policy.”

Barker said the board should also consider districting for elections. He said whenever there is a hot topic within the district, people get excited and want to run for the school board. If there were voting districts, he said, it might temper that desire to run only for the hot topics.

Following the discussion, several members agreed it would benefit the district to seek more public input, and Bennett’s motion was tabled until the work session meeting, which will be held April 22, at 6 p.m., at the district office, 537 10th St., in Evanston.

“We hope that members of the public will attend the work session to express their opinion on this issue,” Bateman wrote to the Herald following the meeting. “We also appreciate the Uinta County Herald for raising public awareness of this important decision. We encourage voters to contact board members to discuss this issue before the next regularly scheduled public work session.”

In other business, Amy Velasquez reported that her Challenge Science class, for the second year in a row, finished first place at the state competition in Laramie. Velasquez thanked the board for allowing her class to participate and said students hope to make it three in a row next year.

She also reported that, through the Challenge classes, there are 15 eighth grade students who are on course to earn high school credit this year.

Officials from Aspen Elementary gave several presentations concerning the state of the school, many revolving around the school’s three B’s: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible.

Newly-named principal for the 2014-15 school year Somer Moore addressed the board concerning programs the school is using to help some kids, who’ve fallen behind in certain areas, get caught up.

She said teachers and administrators have been trying to find out “which [program] will give you the biggest bang for your buck.”

“It’s been hard,” she said. “There’s been tears; there’s been a lot of sweat.”

She said students who are two or more levels behind need some sort of intervention.

“We don’t want to start next year with the same number of students [behind],” she said.

Some techniques that have helped are when teachers meet with students one-on-one in class, or, if there are several students in need of the same instruction, teachers meet with small groups of students to give them the extra attention needed.

During the meeting, Superintendent of Operations Ryan Thomas announced — and the board accepted — the resignation of Evanston Middle School sixth grade teacher Rachel Gunn, who Thomas said, plans to pursue an advanced degree.

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