Southern Utah News Articles
Fredonia School Board votes to not renew Bartlett's contract
Voices for change filled the Fredonia High School gym for the regularly scheduled Fredonia-Moccasin Unified School District board meeting on Tuesday, May 7. Over a hundred people turned out to oppose the possible loss of services due to a budget deficit and learn the fate of controversial superintendent, Nicholas Bartlett.
Budget issues were addressed by the board first. Bartlett explained, “Last year as we dealt with a deficit, there was $170,000 shortfall in the budget, yet we were able to use part of our $1 million dollars in cash reserves to supplement the budget and not raise taxes.”
At the time, the district implemented a reduction in force and let six staff members go, including five teachers. Bartlett went on to say that the carryover of the $170,000 deficit from last year was compounded by an additional $200,000 funding loss, leaving the district to formulate a plan to cover the total deficit of $370,000. Because of the sequestration of the federal government, funding known as ‘forestry fees,’ that have helped keep the school district viable, are now in question of being received.
“In the past seven years we have had lobbyists that have worked hard to lead to the reauthorization of these funds, but as of now we cannot count on that money,” explained Bartlett.
The superintendent and business manager Dorene Mudrow looked to the school board to give important direction to formulate the district’s 2013-14 budget. Options proposed on the meeting agenda for budgeting around the deficit were: use of small school adjustment, which results in increasing the property tax rate; using the district’s cash reserves; universal pay reduction; reduction in force, which would reduce high school options; larger class sizes; outsourcing services; and/or combining duties.
A handful of community members in the audience were outraged at the idea of education services being outsourced to neighboring schools. Fredonia High School has experienced years of decreasing enrollment and would be the likely school to have services provided through another district. FHS enrollment has dropped from a high of 126 students during the 2006-07 school year to just 67 students attending FHS this year. This is an option that is being explored by concerned School Board President Sondra Bistline, in response to urging by many community members, because of the necessity and value of providing sufficient education opportunities for the students of Fredonia.
Audience members passionately spoke to keep Fredonia High School open.
Aaron Derbidge, a former school board member, said, “I would like to touch on a rumor going around that the high school may close and students may be bused to another school, due to low enrollment at the high school. I sat in your seat for four years and it is hard to make decisions. There is a lot of history to this school. My two sons graduated as valedictorians, top of their class. Please explore every option to keep the doors open.”
Crystal Holliday, a former Fredonia High School teacher, said, “I would like to second what Aaron said. I have had students go on from this school to college. I have graduated from this school, students do well from this school. I am concerned about the possible closing with rumors that it will happen this fall, this is not how school boards are to work. Is it three board members that have been talking as a board, or five that have been talking as a board? I want you to follow the rules and not have the public learn around town that the school may close from rumors. I will stand behind this school, I know that we aren’t without problems. We are not perfect, but we need to work together. Parents need to be involved. So parents, if you don’t like what is going on in the classroom, then be there. We have a great school, we need to work together to keep it together.”
Fredonia resident Diane Bundy said, “I have had seven children graduate from Fredonia. I took them one year to Kanab and it was the most expensive year for school fees as a single mother that I experienced. My kids got lost, they didn’t have the right name and were picked on. I have three sons in the military with master’s degrees and one son with disabilities that graduated from FHS. Now if we can do that, then why is there a need to close the school? I don’t know what you are thinking, it just doesn’t need to be done.”
Former FMUSD Board Presiden Guy Finicum spoke next, “My children are third generation Lynx. There is no one that has more of an attachment to this school than me, I love Fredonia High School. With that said, I will go back to a conversation that I had with Mr. Bartlett, and told him that I was worried for our school and that we were losing so many of our students to Colorado City. I was working at that school at the time and I saw and felt an education energy and dedication that we just didn’t have here in Fredonia. Since then, my fears have come to be realized, again we have an agenda item that is proposing to cut salaries and school offerings. I urge the board to appoint an explorative committee that will explore options for improving education for our students other than what are listed here to take care of the 2014 budget deficiency. These decisions need to be made above emotion and with foresight, wisdom and age. I encourage you to move deliberately and with only education of students in mind.”
Linda Guymon, former FMS/FHS teacher, said, “I too was concerned about the rumors about closing Fredonia High School.” She then turned to the crowd, “Can I get a ‘Go Lynx?’” and the crowd erupted with cheers. “We have a lot of good people in our school and in our community. I can’t see community spirit with our kids going to Kanab. We have a good school, we have a good staff, good students and good parents. We need to start thinking that we are good and that we can do this. We don’t want to close our school. I want my grandson to graduate from FHS, because his mother will move if it closes.”
Colette Cox, who works with the district’s Career and Technical Education programs, said, “There have been some great comments from the community and it is obvious by the attendance at tonight’s meeting that we have a lot of people concerned about our school. We need to come together, we are divided, this needs to happen to make positive changes. Unfortunately there have been some negative changes and we have had RIF’s, we have had programs cut, we have had a reduction in pay for some people, lack of supplies for certain teachers and I hate to see our school suffer any more than it has. This is not the Fredonia High School that I went to, and that members of the audience are referring to. It is different, it has changed. We do have problems here and a lot of it has to do with the budget, a lot of it has to do with staffing and personnel, and some of it has to do with administration. These things they can be changed and corrected and it has fallen on the elected school board to do this. I urge you to make decisions that will put student interests first. I know that there are a lot of personalities involved and there are a lot of politics involved, but you need to think about what the students need and deserve. When they don’t have school supplies in the classrooms and the teachers are not getting paid well and are stretched so thin, that means that our kids do not get the education that they deserve. I hope that you will not look at cutting academic programs, career and technical education and extracurricular activities, but distributing the money that we do have effectively and efficiently and making the school the best that it can be.”
Parent Shayleen Lathim said, “People have pride, my kids graduated from FHS. This bickering among the school board has to stop. If we are going to have a school board, they better follow the law and do what they are suppose to be doing. I have a small child that I would like to see graduate from this school. The school board needs to get together and be on the same page.”
She tearfully pleaded, “I am so proud to be here, and anyone that doesn’t have pride, needs to move away. You have seen the camaraderie and how this community pulls together. We want a team that is going to make good decision. I beg you to get on the same page, the public knows that it is not happening.”
The FMUSD has lost 59 students over the past seven years from FHS, and had an overall drop in district numbers of 46 students from 2008-09 to 2012-13. The Moccasin Elementary School was closed in 2011 after loss of enrollment and a financial strain on the school district. Students have been bussed to Fredonia Elementary School since.
During the spring of 2012, the district laid off six staff members to remedy budget shortfalls in part caused by declining enrollment. This severe reduction in student offerings and services have not solved the continuing decline in revenue. Concerns among community members include the fact that the Moccasin School was closed, teaching personnel have been greatly reduced and yet administrative costs have not been cut.
The school board voted unanimously to exercise the small school adjustment and raise property taxes up to, but not to exceeding, 1% and use $150,000 out of the district’s cash reserve to make up for the budget shortfall. This increase will take the current tax rate from 3.89% to 4.89%.
President Sondra Bistline explained after the meeting, “Because of years of declining enrollment, the adversarial climate within the district, and the current budget deficit that we are facing, all options must be explored if the educational outcomes for students is the top priority. While the board voted tonight to explore covering the deficit with a property tax increase and use of the district’s cash reserves, this is not a long term sustainable plan, especially with the district losing funding due to declining enrollment as well as federal and state budget cuts.”
The superintendent’s contract was on the agenda and addressed by the board for the third time in five months. In January, the status of his employment was on the agenda. In March, the buyout of his remaining contract was discussed and the board elected to not buy him out due to the financial strain on the district and also because of public input.
A petition by community members was presented to the board by Christy Riddle on April 9 expressing that it was not a good use of taxpayer money and wanted money to go to student services. At that time, board member Monte Griffiths requested an action item on a future agenda for the superintendent to be dismissed with cause or without cause. The rolling renewal clause of his current contract was voted down, leaving the contract end date of June, 2014.
On May 7, it was proposed to determine if the superintendent’s contract would be retained, dismissed with cause, or buy out without cause. Bartlett asked that this agenda item be discussed in the open meeting.
President Sondra Bistline stated, “There have been allegations of professional misconduct with staff members.”
Cox spoke to the other board members, “Now you have the opportunity to prove evidence and provide cause.”
President Bistline responded, “We have been advised by legal counsel not to discuss cause for dismissal in an open meeting. We would like to launch a formal investigation into this matter.”
A motion was made by Ron Johnson to retain Bartlett’s contract, with a second by Marilyn Cox. The motion did not carry, with Ron Johnson and Marilyn Cox voting to retain, with Christine Johnson, Sondra Bistline and Monte Griffiths voting not to retain.
After the motion to retain was voted down, board member Monte Griffiths said, “We have had declining enrollment for years now. Three families have called me this week alone to say that they are moving. We need a change and it needs to be done now. If we lose our school, then we lose our community.”
After the vote of no confidence, the governing board now needs to determine if the superintendent will be let go with cause or buy him out without cause.
The next regularly scheduled FMUSD school board meeting is set for June 4 at 6 p.m.