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Troy School Board tackles issue of individual actions

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| November 30, 2009 11:00 PM

At the suggestion of an attorney defending the school district against an appeal by one of its own trustees, Troy School Board passed a motion last week to publicly acknowledge that the board is not liable for a trustee’s individual actions.

“The Troy School Board finds itself in a regrettable position,” board chair Sylvia Maffit began reading from a prepared statement at the Monday meeting. “Due to the lawsuit brought against the district by an individual member of the board, we have had no choice but to retain legal counsel to defend a position that the majority of the board believes to be correct, prudent and ethically sound.”

Maffit went on to say “the board is only acting in its official capacity when the board, as a whole, has formally approved a course of action.”

The motion, which outlines the board’s stance and requires publication in the newspaper, passed 5-1, with Heather McDougall opposing.

McDougall accuses district superintendent Brady Selle of making purchases without the board’s approval and of not following state law and district policies when bidding for a window replacement project.

County superintendent Ron Higgins refused in October to hear McDougall’s appeal after he determined that she missed the 30-day deadline to file the complaint. McDougall said she plans to appeal Higgins’ decision to the state Office of Public Instruction. She has until Thursday to file her brief.

Throughout her seven months on the council McDougall has on occasion “stirred the pot,” in Maffit’s words. Selle and the board disapproved of McDougall’s attempt last May to rally students and parents against the 2009-10 preliminary class schedule, and of McDougall endorsing a mayoral candidate during a conversation with a teacher she called at home.

While the board’s motion was obviously directed toward McDougall, other trustees pointed out that they had also acted outside the parameters of their position in the past and that the rules applied to them as well.

“I got my hand slapped by the superintendent and chair last year for this,” trustee Darren Coldwell told McDougall. “… We are all liable.”

McDougall requested Maffit bring up specific incidences where she acted out of line, but Maffit declined, saying that the meeting would have to go into closed session because individuals’ names would be brought up.

“I don’t see how I violated any of that for it to be brought up,” McDougall said.

Selle and trustees Coldwell and Steve Garrett explained that trustees are free to listen and communicate with teachers and the public to keep a pulse on the school district, but polling people as part of an agenda or making promises other than bringing an issue to the board crosses the line.

Other news at last week’s school board meeting:

• The board tabled revision of the cell phone policy for a second time. High School principal Jeff Ralston proposed giving the school administration flexibility to change cell phone rules over time depending on teacher input and how students behave.

• The board approved Jolene Huntsberger and Courtney Fisher as assistant softball coaches.