AASD board votes for refresher course on rules

Asserting overreach by some board members, Altoona Area School Board President Dutch Brennan recommended a presentation by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association about members’ rules and responsibilities.

The presentation will be scheduled and cost the district $200 per hour.

It was approved 5-4 Monday to the chagrin of board members who say they will not stop asking for information from the administration and that the presentation will be a waste of time.

Brennan said that the board should challenge the administration as a unit and not bombard administrators with individual questions. And he said board members should not concern themselves with what is not “in the board’s wheelhouse.”

He said individual board members have habitually made requests for information that pull employees away from daily operation of the district.

“District staff are trying to do their jobs. Board members’ individual requests add hours of work,” Brennan said. “We should be asking questions, but we should be making requests as a group, not as individuals.”

Ron Johnston completely disagreed.

“When I was on the board eight years ago, someone told me, ‘Someone doesn’t like it when you speak up,’ and I said, ‘Well, I will keep doing it,'” Johnston said.

Brennan agreed with Johnston’s general point that the board should ask questions, but said board members also have to ask a question of themselves.

“We have to ask questions. We also have to ask, ‘What are our responsibilities to manage?'”

The recent removal of trees at Mansion Park was an example Brennan gave.

“We have staff assigned to monitor trees. If they see they are rotting from the inside out, it is in their wheelhouse to determine to cut them down. It is important to recognize those situations.”

Board member Dave Francis interjected in opposition to Brennan’s ideas and the tree removal.

“There were nothing wrong with those trees. It was something that ruined Mansion Park. I hope everyone is satisfied,” he said. “They were removed because of leaves on the tennis court. The trees by the tennis courts were absolutely gorgeous. Now they are gone. Just wait until people go out to Mansion Park and see on the first football game. I’m embarrassed.”

Board member Sharon Bream, who also has often requested information from the administration, disagreed with Brennan.

In addition, if the board was going to have such a meeting, she said it should be made after the new school board is in place after the November election.

Terms for Brennan, Vice President Wayne Hippo and Bill Ceglar end in December.

“Money shouldn’t be wasted on lame ducks,” she said. “And the information you bring up as waste of administrative time, that information should already be captured by administrators. The person who asked that question asked it because it was important. You are just trying to shut up board members,” Bream said.

Board member Ed Kreuz said to Brennan: “Dutch, you can bring in your people. I’m still going to ask what I want to ask.”

Certain that they were doing their jobs as elected officials, Johnston, Bream, Francis and Kreuz voted against scheduling a presentation from PSBA.

Brennan, Hippo, Ceglar, Rick Hoover and Kelly Irwin-Adams voted for it.

Irwin-Adams said she sees board members micromanaging the district where they should not.

“The reason I voted for it is that I think board members are unclear on their responsibilities sometimes,” she said. “In some instances, board members think they are responsible for daily operations of the school; that is not our responsibilities. People need to be made reaware of that. Although we oversee the district, we should not interject ourselves in those daily operations situations.”

In a follow-up interview Tuesday, Superintendent Charles Prijatelj distanced himself from Brennan’s request for the board member education session; he said he welcomed questions from board members.

“Some board members ask more questions than others. Some things take time to answer,” he said.

“I welcome calls and requests. I know there is a little back and forth with board members. The reality is I’d much rather have them come to me and become informed than make it up as they go. … They have my cellphone. They can email. Ed Kreuz who does request things, the things he requests are reasonably understandable and public information.”

Prijatelj said handling misconceptions by answering questions from board members is part of his job.

“There are a lot of misconceptions. People ask ‘Why is this happening?’ or ‘I heard this happened.’ I like to be asked those questions so we can put myths to bed. Every place you work, there is typical workplace gossip. I’d rather answer it and get people on same page,” he said.

He didn’t say the school board association presentation is not needed, however.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea for people to understand their roles. But I’m also not naive enough to think people aren’t curious and don’t want answers. I want to make sure they get facts. If that means some people get more TLC, then they’ll get more TLC,” he said. “I try to give everybody information they need. It’s not always easy, but the illusions they hold are broken when I allow people to be part of the discussion.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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