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Monadnock school board member resigns at tense meeting

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 12:00 pm

SWANZEY CENTER — New year, new members, same old battles.

And a resignation.

At its meeting Tuesday night, Monadnock Regional School Board members struggled to settle their differences, most notably over committee assignments.

It was the board’s first meeting since school district elections last week. The elections resulted in the return of incumbent Phyllis T. Peterson of Fitzwilliam to a three-year term, and the election of four new members to the board: Nicholas A. Mosher of Roxbury, Robert A. Mitchell and Joseph E. Smith, both of Swanzey, and Scott Peters of Troy.

The Monadnock Regional School District covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.

Following election of school board officers, Chairman F. Barrett Faulkner of Swanzey tried to take a different approach with committee assignments than past chairmen. It wasn’t received well by some long-term members of the board. Some new members were shaky about it, too.

Faulkner said Tuesday his philosophy is that “a committee is to facilitate the flow of decisions to the board, review information, and work with the administration on what the board needs to pay attention to. The purpose is not to make decisions for the board, or block matters from being a board decision,” he said.

He said he felt committees work best when they are small and lean, and that having three or four people per committee is a good size. He said he’d like to see all school board members named as alternates to the committees, so having enough people for a quorum would no longer be a problem, and that committee membership be revisited every six months.

With that said, Faulkner presented assignments for the education and technology, finances and facilities, policy, sports, negotiations and community relations committees.

His proposal was immediately met with concerns that turned into protests.

“If you don’t have an interest in one committee, but feel stronger about something else, you have no input?” Peterson asked.

Faulkner said this is a new approach, and he hoped board members would try it out.

Board members with experience they feel would be valuable to any committee can share their expertise, he said.

“I think this is a terrible way to go,” Patricia Bauries of Swanzey said. “I have to say that up until June 2014, you had very strong committees. They always had a quorum. They always met, they always brought their motions to the full board, their minutes were posted, and then we got creative. We have not had a finance committee meeting since Dec. 1.”

She said she knows nothing about policy, and wasn’t interested serving on the policy committee.

“As a matter of fact, just speaking for myself, you put me on one committee, policy. Should I resign from the board, is that what you’re saying?” she asked Faulkner.

Edward W. Jacod of Gilsum said from 2010 until last June, the board had “excellent, responsible committee operation.

“This isn’t solving the problem,” he said.

The date he was referring to was a school board meeting on June 3, 2014, where board members were booted from the negotiations committee following a controversial vote the week before on health care coverage in the teachers contract.

The negotiations committee shakeup resulted in Peterson, Winston A. Wright of Fitzwilliam, Bauries and James I. Carnie of Richmond resigning their committee assignments in protest.

Michael Blair of Swanzey said it’s unfortunate people got upset at that meeting, and their decision to resign their committee assignments made it challenging for the board members who were left to continue operating the committees, including making quorums.

It took about an hour Tuesday for the board to finally reach a compromise on the committee assignments.

It came after Vice Chairman Lisa Steadman of Troy asked Faulkner if he would accept committee transfers.

Faulkner said he would.

“I think that we’re making a mistake assuming Barry has some ill-intent in doing this. This is a trust issue,” Steadman said.

Steadman then asked board members to submit their committee requests, and, during a break, she and Faulkner tabulated them.

Once the meeting resumed, the new committee assignments, three to seven members per group, were presented, and after brief debate, were approved unanimously with one abstention: Jacod, who soon after submitted his resignation from the school board, effective at the end of the meeting.

“My decision is not without some regret,” he said. “I have diligently served since appointed to the board since June 2007. But as I look at the board’s policies and actions, I feel the Monadnock Regional School District is not really functioning as a cooperative district, but often functioning as a contentious one.”

The board unanimously accepted his resignation. His resignation brings the 13-member board down to 12 until a replacement can be named.

While a successor has yet to be named, Gilsum parent Karen Wheeler said she had been talking with the town’s selectmen about the post, and hoped to soon have a letter from that board appointing her to fill out the last year of Jacod’s term.

Earlier in the meeting, Wheeler addressed the board with a group of parents and students thanking Monadnock voters for voting against a warrant article last week to close the Gilsum STEAM Academy at the end of this school year, and approving a separate warrant article to keep it open for no less than five years as a pilot for the science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math program in the district.

Later in the meeting, the school board unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the vote to keep the school open.