RIPLEY — In response to the vote of “no confidence” from the Ripley Education Association, District Board of Education members at their regular meeting on Dec. 28 decided to hire an independent firm to evaluate the situation and help resolve differences.
After a lengthy executive session, Board of Education President Robert Bentley read a resolution proposing the hiring of Bridge-it Evaluation Services from Bemus Point. “The board now has a direction in response to the vote of ‘no confidence,’ Bentley said.
The firm will conduct a series of interviews with board of education members, administration, union representatives and non-instructional personnel, Bentley said. The process is expected to take at least a month. “Through the interview process, we hope to find out the root of the problems that have festered or developed,” he added.
On Dec. 12, the teachers’ union issued a letter indicating their lack of trust in the leadership of the district. As the letter stated, “The culture of our school has become one of hostility, favoritism, fear and anxiety,” and “Our concerns include: communication, trust, collaboration, decision making, vision and the lack of respect and bullying of staff.”
The letter to the school board also expressed the Ripley Education Association’s belief “that leadership has failed to abide by the vision statement that ‘Every day, Every child, Every minute counts!’ through their lack of presence in the building, professionalism and rash emotional decisions.”
The teachers’ union issued the letter shortly after special education teacher and union President Lisa Sabella was suspended by the district after being charged with alleged child endangerment.
Bentley had expressed the opinion that the letter seemed to be in retaliation to Sabella’s suspension. However, acting union President Michelle Waters emphasized at the Dec. 28 meeting that this was not the case. Rather, the union’s dissatisfaction with the district leadership had been growing for some time, Waters said.
Bentley responded, “I appreciate your input. My whole comment was based on the timing of it.”
Bentley went on to emphasize that the board’s action was independent of the administration. “I want to be clear on this,” he said. “The Board of Education is having this firm brought in to evaluate the situation. They are working for the board.”
Bentley said the purpose of hiring Bridge-it would be to restore communication and relations with the teachers’ union. “I believe it’s the best way for this district to proceed,” he said. “I’ve sat there 27 years, and I’ve never seen this.”
Bentley told board members that the base cost of the evaluation service is $7,500, but he expects the total cost to go to $15,000. He said that Bridge-it owner John Hogan will assign Kirby Oldham to conduct the interviews.
Bentley went on to say that it was important that the evaluation be a “district-wide snapshot.” For this reason, even non-instructional personnel will be interviewed.
In response, Jeanne Hartmann, the union representative for non-instructional personnel asked if people could answer honestly without fear of repercussions. “I want to be able to say to my people when they ask me, ‘Will we get in trouble for answering honestly?’ — ‘No, Bob told me you will not’.”
Bentley responded that the board wants people to answer the questions honestly and that no one will get in trouble for their responses.
In other business, the board approved the appointment of Brianna Hunt, a Special Education Certified Substitute teacher for an extended tenure.
The board also approved the last change order for the roof replacement project before the project is closed. The change order provides for the installation of an anchor safety system on one of the roof units. This anchor is required by law because the unit is less than ten feet wide. The safety system will cost $2,595.
Board members also approved the rejection of all bids for the fire alarm replacement project. “Bids came in horrible high,” Bentley said, “not even close to what was expected.”
Head maintenance mechanic Doug Norton told board members that there were several reasons why the bids were too high. There was a short time frame to get the bids finished, Norton said, and because of other projects, contractors could not get apprentices, only journeymen. Also, the work was proposed to be done during second shift, which is more expensive, he added.
The board approved rebidding the project for first shift, between March 1 and August 28, with apprentice workers under a journeyman lead. Work will proceed in the summer if a bid is accepted. Also, two or three stations can be safely eliminated, so the new bids should be more in line with the budget amount, Norton said.
Norton also told board members that the heat exchanger that services the cafeteria is cracked. Fortunately, the heat exchanger is covered under a ten-year warranty, so the district would only have to pay for installation, he said.