Western Heights Public Schools state-appointed interim Superintendent Monty Guthrie told NonDoc in August that he expected the district’s September board meeting to be “professional,” but Monday evening’s meeting was instead marked with confusion.
The meeting of the Western Heights Board of Education was the first since Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Timmons granted the State Board of Education’s writ of mandamus in August requiring the district to acknowledge the authority of the state board in day-to-day operations. The state board had voted in July to take over governance of the troubled district for a year.
However, at the meeting, board Chairman Robert Everman continued to show resistance to the state’s control.
On Friday, Sept. 10, Guthrie approved and posted an agenda for the evening’s meeting at 4:50 p.m., and Everman posted physical copies of his own agenda at 3:35 p.m. on the same day. The agendas had similar content, but in different orders. During Monday night’s meeting, Everman followed his own agenda instead of Guthrie’s, causing confusion for community members in attendance. (You can watch part of the meeting in the video
Everman read a motion to move the meeting into executive session to discuss ongoing litigation the district has brought contesting the state board takeover. He read the motion as item 5.1, following his own agenda, instead of as item 9.1, as it was listed on Guthrie’s agenda. As he did, Guthrie attempted to read the writ of mandamus over him.
“Board members, you will not be following Open Meetings if you (hear) this,” Guthrie warned board members.
Everman asked the district’s legal counsel Jerry Colclazier to comment.
“It’s not a meeting of the superintendent, it’s a meeting of the board of education,” Colclazier said. “The president of the board of education has absolute power to set the details of the meeting. I don’t care if you have something from your attorney, I represent this district.”
Community members in attendance shouted at the board members as they convened into executive session.
“When you don’t go by the registered agenda it makes things very difficult. When you refuse to open up the information I sent to you online to prepare for the meeting, it’s very difficult to have an organized meeting,” Guthrie said after the meeting. “I think we’ll have to work closer next time. I will provide all of the paperwork in writing, hand-delivered, to make sure we can prepare for a meeting and make sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.”
Community members were gathered outside of Monday evening’s meeting, as they have for months, to continue to call for resignations from Everman, vice chairman Robert Sharp, board member Linda Farley and board member Rosalind Cravens.
During a State Board of Education meeting in August, board members unanimously voted to request Everman’s resignation and parents and community members were called on by state board member Trent Smith to continue to “put as much pressure on Mr. Everman as possible.”
“We are incredibly grateful that the state board continues to validate our concerns. We will continue to protest before board meetings and we will also continue to request the resignation of Robert Everman as well as board members Linda Farley, Bob Sharp, and Rosalind Cravens during public comment at the meetings,” community member Amy Boone told NonDoc. “These four people do not represent our values as a community and do not have our children’s best interest at heart, as evidenced by their continued support of Mannix Barnes and their willingness and intent to spend hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars via a new contract that should go toward educating our kids.”
‘It feels like we’re not putting our educators first’
Monday’s meeting also featured several tabled agenda items, including the hiring of 26 certified personnel and 17 non-certified personnel, the approval of the district’s virtual-learning plan, a first and final hearing to vote and adopt new school board policy, the hiring of a district information officer and a vote of whether to approve a resolution to an impasse between the Western Heights Education Association and the school board.
Board member Briana Flatley was the only one to vote against tabling these items.
“The impasse was something I was really excited about. That is something our district, our staff, our teachers and our support staff needed,” Flatley said. “That was a two-year step they hadn’t received. That was additional financial burdens that were being lifted. They were getting signing bonuses, new teachers were getting a bonus for signing. It’s unfortunate that it was tabled, because it feels like we’re not putting our educators first.”
Board members, with the exception of Flatley, voted against approving a contract with Guthrie as interim superintendent of the district through June of 2022.
“I’m going to make a motion to not do this at this time because we’re in the middle of litigation,” Everman said.
“Is that a table (on the item)?” Guthrie asked Everman.
“It’s a ‘no’ for now until we get some things clear,” Everman said.
Guthrie remained optimistic regarding the agenda items that were tabled after the meeting.
“We’re going to get it done. A ‘table’ is not a ‘no,'” Guthrie said. “We have too many people and too many things at stake and too many kids needing them that that does not concern me. There’s a lot of steps that we can go through. I will continue to give this school board an opportunity to make good decisions for their students. If they don’t take my recommendations and go with that, then I guess we’ll see what happens next.”