School board hires attorney after member files Open Door complaint

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The Switzerland County Community School Board of Trustees voted 6-1 Monday, July 17th to retain outside counsel in response to board member Jill Cord’s citing the board’s alleged violation of Indiana’s Open Door policy to the Public Access Counselor (PAC).

The board did not discuss the incident at the advise of attorney Matt Hocker. Because Hocker was present during the alleged violation, the school board needed to hire outside counsel to represent them with a response due to the PAC by July 25th.

Board members Katie Collier, Josh Deck, Joe Bennett, Greg Bosaw, Tye Sullivan and Amy Combs voted in favor of retaining counsel while Jill Cord voted against.

Specifics of the complaint were not discussed at the meeting but both Cord and attorney Andrew Manna (hired by the board) confirmed on Tuesday that the alleged violation concerned talking about the old Vevay High School (administration building). which was not an item on its executive session agenda on June 5th. The discussion came prior to an advertised public work session.

Insurance may pay the attorney expense or otherwise money would come from the general fund, according to treasurer Wilma Swango Rosenberger.

Board member Joe Bennett asked if past suits by employees had been covered through insurance and they had, noted Rosenberger. He also expressed concern there were detailed minutes of the executive session in the complaint filed.

Board member Amy Combs asked attorney Hocker what would happen if four board members took part in a conference call which is something she had heard happened with previous boards. Hocker said that would be a violation and all board members should be invited. He explained that even subcommittee meetings must be advertised.

Combs added that the public should know that a complaint has been filed against the school board by a school board member. Taxpayer money may be used and she encouraged taxpayers have anything to say to contact their board members.

During the meting, the board reviewed minutes from May 15th were approved as amended.

The June 19th meeting minutes were approved 6-1. However, Cord was concerned about inaccurate information and an amendment to the executive session which was approved. Executive sessions were held on June 5th and 6th. Cord said as school board secretary she took the executive session minutes.

Tye Sullivan said the amendment was from the original board packet which included a name change from Wilma Swango to Wilma Rosenberger.

Part of the board minutes to be approved included the signing off by each board member that the only items discussed during the executive session were those advertised.

On Tuesday, Cord explained that there was additional information discussed which became the basis of her complaint and the reason she did not vote to approve the June 19th meeting. She clarified that her unofficial minutes were her notes.

At the meeting she expressed continued concern of board meeting minutes on the school website with items taken out of context along with inaccurate and erroneous minutes.

In other discussion, Cord failed to get the topic of the old Vevay High School onto the agenda to discuss recent developments but instead was given the alloted three minutes allowed for any member of the public.

She read pertinent information and time sensitive information which included the old school being a state registered historic structure in 1981. A historic preservationist from Department of Natural Resources informed her of a $50,000 historic preservation matching grant if the building was placed on the National Register. The deadline for the grant is Oct. 6th. She added that James Duffy of Indiana Landmark was interested in the building also.

She added a three year capital projects plan for buildings was approved on Oct. 17, 2016 which included would run through 2019.

Board president Collier told Cord when her three minutes were up and said she could submit any remaining comments in writing (as per board policy). Collier said the information is repetitive.

The school board has voted to demolish the school building but approved for local resident Lisa Fisher to pay for a feasibility study to see what the costs would be to save the building including the cost of asbestos removal.

Cord had closed last month’s meeting by reading a lengthy statement during board comment section of the meeting. Chairman Collier chose to take the board comment section off the agenda this month. Cord attempted to get it put on the agenda saying board comments are an important component. The night’s agenda was approved with Cord voting against.

In board action, low bids for Snow removal (Parham Excavating), Fuel (Southern Petro), Trash (Best Way Disposal), Bread (Klosterman Bakery) and Milk (Prairie Farms)- both negotiated through the Wilson Education Center.

Before a vote was taken Cord asked if Jones could get additional snow removal bids. Jones explained the process was completed as advertised. The board vote was 6 to 1 to approve all bids with Cord in dissension.

In personnel matters, Carrie Barwick was hired to teach Algebra I, alternative school and remediation. Tiffany Young was named as Title I paraprofessional.

The board accepted the resignation of Mitch Hobson from his high school English position and Nicole Leap

Extracurricular appointments were approved with Shannon White announcing she would not be doing sixth grade basketball this year.

During committee reports Joe Bennett gave a brief facilities report and asked that S.A.Y. fields be mowed.

Superintendent Jones reported the endowment board met June 27th and will meet again on July 25th. He added that informal negotiations had been held with formal meetings to begin September 15th.

No internal controls committee report was given.

In other business, the school bus route modifications and textbook rental fees were approved.

A contract was approved for Allyson Bryan as speech pathologist through Staffing Options and Solutions. Cord asked why the contract would not allow the employee to release her pay rate. Jones reported the school corporation knows what the company charges but not individual salaries of the company employees.

The board approved a contract with the YMCA. Among the service it provides are second grade swim lessons, swim team, elementary basketball and special needs students use weekly, just to name a few.

The next meeting will be Monday, Aug. 21st at 6 p.m. An open working board session meeting scheduled for next week has been postponed until September.