The woman who preceded Linda Clark as superintendent of what was then the Meridian School District is rallying to her successor’s defense.
Christine Donnell, who was superintendent from 1998 to 2004 and has an elementary school named for her, joined with former trustee Reid Olsen on Wednesday to launch a campaign to recall four of the West Ada school board’s five members. The four voted Tuesday to rescind a contract extension that the previous board approved for Clark in June, just before two new members took office.
Donnell and Olsen, who served from 2004 to 2014, are targeting Russell Joki, Carol Sayles, Julie Madsen and board chair Tina Dean for recall on the March 8 ballot. Joki and Madsen were elected in May, and their terms are set to expire in 2019. Dean and Sayles were elected to four-year terms in 2013.
Mike Vuittonet, in his fifth term as a trustee, is not part of the recall. He was one of the three trustees who voted in June to extend Clark’s rolling two-year contract one more year. Joki and Madsen succeeded the other two board members who backed the extension. Dean and Sayles voted against it then.
Joki and Madsen opposed the extension from the start. They said the newly elected board should have made that decision, not the lame-duck one.
Then they determined that the June meeting violated the state’s open meeting law because there was nothing on the agenda about a discussion of Clark’s contract. Board attorney Breck Seiniger said that omission made the June vote invalid, and the only choice remaining to board members was to nullify the extension. Clark’s existing two-year contract remains in place, covering this school year and next.
Olsen questioned the open-meeting argument. The board handled Clark’s contract the same way it handled superintendent contracts when he was a trustee, he said.
“They are just looking for something to try to discredit Linda, or at least force her out,” Donnell told the Idaho Statesman.
Clark and the board’s relationship has been strained. Joki criticized her for speaking out about educational issues in other districts, saying they are not West Ada’s concern. Board members took away a testing director’s position Clark sought to fill, costing about $100,000 annually, saying the district must show financial restraint. When Gov. Butch Otter appointed her to the State Board of Education, some trustees questioned whether she could do both jobs.
Seiniger defended the Tuesday vote.
“A solid majority of this board believes that they owe it to the parents and taxpayers of the district not to be a rubber stamp for anyone,” he told the Statesman. “They are puzzled by the anger of those who would have them refrain from exercising due diligence.”
Tuesday’s meeting got heated when more than 100 people waited for two hours while trustees met in executive session. When the trustees reopened the public portion of their meeting to vote on the contract, they took no public testimony, upsetting some in the audience.
Trustees should try to avoid those kinds of confrontations, Donnell told the Statesman. “They are not elected to cause chaos,” she said.
Dean told the Statesman that Donnell and others have a right to engage in the political process. Beyond that, she declined to address the recall.
Joki said he would wait until he is notified by the election office that there could be a recall vote before he comments.
Madsen and Sayer could not be reached for comment.
The back-and-forth over the past two months has led some people to wonder whether Clark, who is 67, might retire rather than fight the board. Clark declined to comment.