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School board's Brent Snow: We may disagree, but let's not be disagreeable | Guest Column
As a San Juan Island School Board member I have been terribly troubled by recent course of events surrounding our schools. I write this as a single member and citizen, and in no way speak for the Board as a whole. There are three recent, important, and controversial issues that I’d like to address.
First, the Petition of Recall. On February 22nd, 2011 at 1:37pm, Mr. Nicholas Power withdrew the 1st amended petition of recall approximately seven minutes into a hearing before the San Juan County Superior Court.
The recall petition has lacked legitimate substance since its inception on February 4th. This was clearly pointed out to Mr. Power by the Prosecuting Attorney. The District Directors’ attorney brought these same deficiencies to Mr. Power’s attention and asked him to withdraw it to avoid unnecessary legal costs. By waiting for the start of the hearing to withdraw it, Mr. Power pointlessly required the Directors’ attorney to travel between Seattle and Friday Harbor for the hearing at District expense.
Additionally Mr. Power has initiated a series of public records requests relating to claims raised in the petition. The requests require the production and legal review of thousands of documents.
Response to the petition and associated records requests has consumed scores if not hundreds of hours of staff and administration time. Thousands of dollars of costs have been incurred responding to the petition and related records requests. The District is continuing to respond to each new records request. The time and money consumed responding to these legal actions require scarce resources that are being taken away from our District students.
The petition and records requests strike me as simply tactics to pressure the school board to reverse its decision to accept the resignation of Principal Gary Pflueger, and to force the board members to resign as a consequence of making the difficult decision.
Unfortunately these tactics are fiscally and emotionally costly. The recall process and Public Records Act, as well as the freedom of press and speech, are essential tools of our democracy to ensure government is responding to genuine needs of its citizens. However, these tools of democracy are being misused without regard to the impact they have on our schools and community.
Second, Principal Pflueger’s resignation. The Board recognizes the acceptance of his resignation is an unpopular decision. We have attempted to provide the highest degree of confidentiality associated with this or any personnel action. However, upon repeated demands to “reveal the truth” and amid claims of a “conspiracy”, I reluctantly, and with the permission of Principal Pflueger, asked the board to openly discuss details underlying our decision to accept his resignation in our School Board meeting of February 23rd.. I will not repeat the details again in print. However, at the conclusion of this emotional board meeting, Mr. Pflueger made another public statement as reported in The Island Guardian, Feb 24, 2011, “As he did in the beginning, when the whole resignation controversy started, Gary once again asked the public to support his decision, and as for the continued pressure that members of the staff, teachers and parents have put on the Board, he simply stated: “If your trying to do it for me: Stop. Okay?”
Mr. Pflueger is a good man. I am disappointed, that, as a community, we simply could not accept Mr. Pflueger’s and the Board’s decision in this exceptionally sensitive personnel matter. Instead we have insisted on “knowing the truth” and in the process dragged Mr. Pflueger, the Board, Staff, and Administration, through a traumatic, community-dividing ordeal.
Third, and most recently, is the issue of Superintendant Rick Thompson’s use of the word “thesis” in a biographical press release of January 20, 2010 and his failure immediately to correct subsequent reference to his Master’s studies research paper. Mr. Thompson has acknowledged his error and has:
Issued a public apology in writing, and verbally at our last school board meeting;
Self-reported his error to the Office of Professional Practice (OPP), a department of the Washington State Office of the Superintendant of Public Instruction;
Published the research paper in question on-line at the school district web site.
I have personally reviewed Mr. Thompson’s application and related material. The word “thesis” does not appear in any of his application material, nor was it in any way influential in my decision to recommend his hiring in January of last year. Instead, I relied upon direct interviews with Mr. Thompson, references, and his progressive experiences over the last 23 years in the Washington State public education system. He has been a Teacher, Principal, Assistant Superintendant, Curriculum Director and Superintendent in multiple school districts in Washington. The misuse of the word “thesis” is an issue I take seriously. The Board is currently awaiting a written response from the OPP. We will review and consider their professional feedback and recommendations, taking into consideration the impact to our schools and community.
The School Board is a publicly elected body charged with the task of guiding the course of our public schools. There are few issues as important, emotional, and complex as the education of our children.
It’s okay to disagree with the judgment of the School Board.
We may disagree, but I ask us not to be disagreeable in the process. Use the tools of democracy in a manner that serves, and not disrupts, our community. Engage in a positive approach to improving our schools and the education of our children. Come to the board meetings, provide constructive input, volunteer in the schools. Run for the School Board. Vote for the candidate of your choice! Three Board positions, a majority, open this fall; June 6t —10th, a mere three months away, is the opportunity for candidates to sign up. Participate in democracy in a positive way and make a real difference improving our schools and community.
Brent Snow, San Juan Island School District, Position #1