MCNARY – You could hear a pin drop during the September McNary Elementary School Governing Board meeting.
A quiet meeting can mean a lot of things that aren’t always known to the occasional observer. Sometimes the lack of chatter and discussion means the issue at hand is serious. Or, the quiet is out of respect for the person speaking.
In the case of this school board meeting, there was no mistaking the general tension and hostility in the air that began as board president Leona Hinton called the meeting to order via a desk phone speaker. Hinton was traveling at the time and attended remotely.
Approximately 18 people were gathered in a small classroom – some parents, some staff and one child.
Board member Sandra Hume, board clerk Esperanza Alderete, Superintendent Melisa Milan, Business Manager Janet Fenderson and Director of Curriculum & Instruction Vicki Greer were the school board and staff members in attendance at the September 17 meeting.
Call to order, roll call and approval of the agenda were straightforward, making up the first three agenda items. Number four on the agenda. However, “Call to the Public,” was startling — as Hinton said she “was not going to do Call to the Public” because she was not there in person.
Via speaker phone, Hinton asked the board how many were in the audience. A staff member informed her (through the speaker phone) that there were about 18 people. At that time, Hinton directed the staff to move forward allowing Call to the Public to proceed.
Food Service Director Tryphena Endfield was first. She stood up from her chair and began by stating that she was informed by other cafeteria staff that individuals were allegedly being sexually harassed by another employee. She did not say the name or job title of the alleged offender, but said that she “brought the issue to Ms. Milan” several times.
Most boards or councils do not handle sensitive personnel issues in the Call to the Public, but that did not discourage Endfield who remained standing.
“I’ve been threatened that I could be fired and have been intimidated by Ms. Milan,” she added. “I felt this issue was not handled right and this got into my job. I feel that she tried to get rid of me.”
“Sexual harassment is sexual harassment,” Endfield went on to say. “I felt the principal did not take any good action here so I want to address the board that this has happened.”
Several times during Endfield’s statement, board president Leona Hinton interrupted with unmistakable sternness, reminding the board that they could not respond, discuss, or take action on the matter, which is prohibited by statute for boards and councils. She also appeared to chastise Endfield and the other board members throughout the statement.
“First of all, no one may comment on this matter because it’s not on the agenda,” said Hinton. “I don’t know if any of you follow procedures; there is a chain of command and you have a supervisor,” she advised.
“She was not the person who was harassed,” added Hinton who seemed to impart that the employee was in violation of policy by speaking about a confidential personnel matter. “There is a right to privacy for that person.”
“What the board will do is they can make a written comment and submit it to the principal and board president. Then it can be put on the agenda and addressed,” advised Hinton.
“May I say something,” asked board member Alderete at least three times during Hinton’s admonishment.
Hinton snapped, “No” at every request adding, “This is not open for discussion. I can read you that law. You should be aware of it.”
“But you are not the only board member,” responded Alderete. “You cannot make all of the decisions.”
“It’s not on the agenda; you are violating the open meeting law and I will report it to the school board association!” threatened Hinton.
The three minute window for Call to the Public had been exceeded at that time, so the board moved on to the second Call to the Public requestor and former McNary classified employee, Caroline Moody Buckley.
“Why is nothing being done about the treatment of the ladies here at the school?” Buckley asked the board. “He should have been removed and addressed when the harassment was happening; why is he getting special treatment?”
Buckley recited several other concerns including but not limited to questions about how bonuses would be dispersed among classified and non-classified staff. “From top to bottom,” she asked the board, “How much is everyone getting?”
“Are you going to pay someone to come in a re-do the policy handbook?” was one of the last items mentioned by Buckley.
Board president Hinton responded to Buckley with similar verbiage and firm tone as her response to Endfield saying, “You are not that employee; that person still has a right to privacy,” answered Hinton. “The ADE (Arizona Department of Education) website has your answer as to what we will study.”
More than one board member attempted to speak following Buckley’s questions, but Hinton squelched all other comment and referred back to open meeting law.
“It’s as stated in the Arizona open meeting law — did you guys hear me say that you need to read it beforehand?” Hinton asked the board.
Buckley took her seat and the board moved onto the agenda’s 11 action items. Hinton reminded the board members that she had “made all the motions in the previous meeting” and asked the board to participate by making motions on the pending items.
Despite Hinton’s request, the board members were virtually silent throughout the remainder of the meeting, offering minimal motions and comments. Sandy Hume made one motion and attempted at least two more motions but was too soft-spoken to be heard by Hinton through the speaker phone.
Superintendent Melisa Milan also explained that agenda item number 11 involved the approval to implement updated policies sent to the district by the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). “ASBA sends us policies that we have to update in our policies as the laws change.”
Intermittently, Janet Fenderson repeated information to Hinton through the phone because she was closest in proximity to the speaker and was sitting at the table with the board members.
Motions were made by Hinton on eight of the 11 action items on the agenda. Throughout most of the items, the board had no questions, minimal comments with dead silence seeming the preferred response as Hinton led the board through the agenda.
“This is the time to ask if you have any questions,” Hinton reminded the group. This comment was punctuated by more dead silence.
“Please speak up because I can’t hear you through the phone,” Hinton repeated several times during the meeting. “If I’m not giving you enough time to respond, please say so.”
Finally, Hinton asked, “Can you hear me?” which was again followed by mostly silence.
Board member Alderete refused to vote on two action items, one of which was item 8, “Approval of resignation of Mario Garcia for FY 2019/2020 effective 09/20/2019.”
“I’m not going to say anything because of the issue that is going on,” said Alderete. “I’m refusing to vote.”
Hinton moved to approve the motion and Hume seconded and the motion to accept Garcia’s resignation was approved.
Alderete also refused to vote on item 10, “Approval of bonuses for all staff to be paid 11/29/19.”
“We have had a hard time getting teachers at McNary because the pay is so low,” explained Alderete. “It is the lowest in Arizona so teachers should get most of the money.”
“The bonus money should be used for certified teachers only because they work so hard to get an education,” added Alderete. “I owe $125,000 in student loans and so do other teachers.”
Superintendent Milan said the bonus money was “for all staff” at which point board president Hinton called the meeting “out of order.”
“It has nothing to do with the subject,” said Hinton. “I believe that all that should be included in the bonuses because everyone works hard.”
Alderete repeated her statement, “I’m not going to vote.”
The motion was passed by the remaining board members and all action items on the September 17 agenda were approved.
“I would like to thank the board for their participation and I thank the public for attending,” said Hinton at the conclusion of the meeting.
McNary Elementary School Governing Board Meetings are held the first Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in school room 403 unless otherwise posted, according to the school website: http://www.mcnary.k12.az.us/index.php/governing-board/.
All public notices with agendas will be posted at the District Office outdoor display case and at the McNary Post Office on the bulletin board. All meetings are open to the public.