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County schools superintendent turns away appeal

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 15, 2009 12:00 AM

The Lincoln County Superintendent of Schools ruled last week that he would not hear a Troy School Board trustee’s case against the school district because she failed to file her Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the board’s decisions concerning each of the alleged offenses.

“I am pleased that we didn’t lose,” said Brady Selle, superintendent of Troy schools, “but it doesn’t clarify whether we were determined to be wrong or right.”

Heather McDougall said that she plans to appeal county superintendent Ron Higgins’ decision with the state Office of Public Instruction. McDougall accuses 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.

A Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of a final decision made by the school board concerning the contested issue, according to the Administrative Rules of Montana, which govern school controversies. McDougall claims that her precise complaint is that there never was a board decision in any of the matters that she brought forth.

“There was never a final decision by the board of trustees because we never voted on anything listed in the Notice of Appeal to Ron Higgins,” McDougall said.

The school district’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case last month, citing that none of the alleged offenses occurred within the 30-day timeframe. It also stated that the county superintendent does not have jurisdiction to hear such a case under Montana law, a venue that is usually used for student and parent appeals. 

“… Allegations of discontent or failure to follow board policy… fall outside of the realm of what a county superintendent can hear,” read the school district’s motion to dismiss.

McDougall’s interpretation of the law is that the county superintendent does have jurisdiction over the case because what she is contesting falls within the duties of the trustee, such as conducting fiscal business.

Selle said that school board policy clearly allowed him to make purchases up to $25,000 on behalf of the district without prior approval from the board, and state law allows up to $50,000. The majority of trustees do not have a problem with the policy, he said.

“From local school boards to Congress, decisions are made by the majority of the body,” Selle said. “Though the minority side is disappointed, it is highly unusual for the losing side to make a request to force the majority to change their decision.”

McDougall said her chief objection in the multiple allegations was the bidding process. She showed Selle a rough draft of her appeal a month before filing it, she said, hoping that it would push him to allow the board to change the bidding policy.

She and trustee Darren Coldwell created a new policy, she said, which would require Selle to solicit bids for jobs between $5,000 and $25,000. Jobs over that amount would go through a formal bidding process. When she did not see the policy item on the next agenda, she filed her appeal.

If the state superintendent of public instruction agrees with Higgins’ decision, McDougall would have the option of taking her case all the way to district court.