It’s understandable that Superintendent Teresa Knife Chief would have some difficulty adjusting to the demands of a much larger school district, and we chose not to criticize some of her early miscues.
But there’s a world of difference between honest mistakes and outright fabrication and manipulation, and Knife Chief crossed that boundary on Friday when she held a special meeting without properly informing the public beforehand.
She not only kept the public out of the loop for the special meeting by delaying the posting of a required notice of the meeting, but also shut out a board member, failing to inform her that a special meeting was being conducted. The board cannot tolerate Knife Chief’s actions and should immediately place her on leave for the remainder of her tenure, which ends June 30.
There was no need to act on Principal Rachael Lehman’s resignation on Friday and board members, who had previously rejected the resignation, wanted a better explanation as to why the superintendent wanted to end Lehman’s employment with the district. Several board members indicated they had received calls from district residents who were disappointed by the decision to let Lehman go.
But the fix was already in with a trio of new principals set to take over, including one being brought in by the incoming superintendent Steven Sallee. Instead of taking time to actually consult the board, Knife Chief told board members they had no choice in the matter and that failure to accept Lehman’s resignation would simply harm the principal’s career, since she would be let go in either case.
Orr board representative Nancy Wall Glowaski pushed back against Knife Chief’s comments during a conversation they had on Tuesday. Later that day, Knife Chief hastily arranged a special board meeting, and told her executive secretary, who normally and very competently provides notice of all meetings, that she would personally handle the required notifications for Friday’s special meeting.
But the Orr board representative says Knife Chief never informed her of the special meeting, nor did Knife Chief inform this newspaper or other media of the meeting.
Knife Chief claims she contacted Glowaski, but we have trouble buying the superintendent’s story because she’s been less than candid in the past.
When the Timberjay requested documentation of where the district chose to allocate dollars for a marketing campaign, Knife Chief provided doctored documents to this newspaper. When activity buses were discontinued at several schools, Knife Chief did so before consulting with board members and then offered differing explanations for the decision.
In most school districts, such actions would have resulted in disciplinary action or firing. But this is the district that forgives and forgets, much to its own regret. Although a few board members — most notably Nancy Wall Glowaski and Chet Larson — have expressed their concerns, board Chairman Robert Larson has been too willing to sweep the dirt under the rug and shrug it off. Indeed, Chet Larson even questioned the legality of last Friday’s meeting at the time it was held, noting that the district had only posted the meetings at local schools two days in advance, rather than the legally-required three days. But Chair Larson chose to go ahead with the meeting anyway, instead of adjourning it immediately, which was the only proper and legal course to take.
The old saying that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it could be the official motto for ISD 2142. After the district’s troubling experience with former Superintendent Don Langan, the board should have been well aware of the dangers of sleeping at the switch. But Chairman Larson, obsessed with polishing the district’s image, doesn’t want to deal with real issues. He’d rather keep them buried.
Unfortunately, those very actions are tarnishing the district’s reputation. The public’s mood towards ISD 2142 has soured as the district has broken a string of promises it made during the 2009 referendum campaign. Class sizes have jumped and the district is once again contemplating multi-age classrooms as a stop-gap measure. Meanwhile, the district is hammering away at art and music, former staples of a well-rounded education. Under Knife Chief’s guidance, people don’t trust the school board to do the right thing or to listen to them.
The district is at a critical juncture as it prepares to bring a new superintendent on board. Allowing Knife Chief’s ethical failures to go unchecked will send the wrong message — that this is a board that will roll over and cater to the whims of its administrator at any cost.
The board is supposed to be the administrator’s boss, not the other way around. If Chairman Larson lacks the intestinal fortitude to honestly tackle this district’s problems, he needs to step down and let someone else take charge. But if he values this district as dearly as he says, he can’t wait for Knife Chief’s contract to expire and should move to put her on leave now.