Education

West Ada trustee, state senator spar over school board recall motive

West Ada Trustee Russell Joki
West Ada Trustee Russell Joki kjones@idahostatesman.com

What’s the West Ada School District recall all about?

Russell Joki, one of four West Ada trustees facing recall, told the Statesman this week that the recall was “orchestrated” by a group of developers led by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, because Joki asked tough questions about how district money is spent on contracts and construction, and challenged how fast the district and Meridian should grow.

Winder calls Joki’s account a “fabrication.” He’s not leading the recall, he said, but supports it because of what he termed the board’s shabby treatment of former Superintendent Linda Clark. Clark ran into board opposition almost immediately after last May’s trustee election, and last fall she resigned and then had the board fire her after it said her resignation had not been accepted.

Other news emerged Thursday:

▪  Winder withdrew proposed legislation that would have limited school trustees’ power to fill board vacancies when a majority of trustees are under possible recall.

▪  The West Ada board set a meeting for 6 p.m. Friday with an agenda to discuss the recall. Recall advocates criticized the board for scheduling a meeting on short notice on a Friday night.

Joki and trustees Julie Madsen, Carol Sayles and Chairwoman Tina Dean face a recall election on May 17. Dean and Madsen say they are considering resigning rather than going through the recall. State law gives targeted officials five days to resign or face voters in the election.

One of the trustees will have reached the fifth day Friday and that trustee is expected to make a statement at Friday night’s meeting, Joki said. No other details about the meeting or its agenda have been made public, and neither Dean nor Madsen responded to calls seeking comment Thursday.

RECALL AND LEGISLATION COLLIDE

Winder acknowledged that he offered his bill on the appointment process to draw attention to the West Ada recall. He and others feared that the trustees could circumvent the intent of the recall, which is to replace the board. Instead, board members could resign one at a time before the recall election and allow remaining colleagues to control who gets appointed.

“We need to shine a light on what’s happening there,” Winder said. It’s also possible, under existing law, that a trustee facing recall could resign and then be reappointed by a board, said Winder.

Winder withdrew the bill to give stakeholders more time to get familiar with it, he said, but he’s confident it would have passed.

Yet his own State Affairs Committee raised concerns early on. Then the Idaho School Boards Association told Winder this week that it would not support the bill. The association’s government committee “felt like it was written for a single scenario,” said Executive Director Karen Echeverria. “They really felt like whatever happens in West Ada, (that needs) to play itself out.”

Winder says the bill would not have affected West Ada because the recall process already was underway. But putting it off a year takes the West Ada element out of a process that needs to be examined, he said.

FOCUS ON GROWTH

Joki believes his no-growth stance as a candidate for Meridian City Council in 2013 created “fear” among developers and growth advocates. After being elected trustee, Joki introduced a school district policy that was more aggressive in telling local governments “that the school district does not have the capacity to serve this new growth. We can’t build schools fast enough.”

Developers didn’t like his position “when I ran for City Council. I don’t think they like it now,” Joki said in a meeting with the Statesman editorial board, where he said he was speaking only for himself and not the board.

Winder is Boise office director of Cushman and Wakefield, an international company specializing in commercial real estate. He said he doesn’t object to the trustees asking tough questions about construction and development in the district.

He said he joined the recall effort because of his support for Clark, a superintendent he liked in a district where his daughter works as a vice principal at Galileo STEM Academy.

Winder attended a raucous board meeting in late September, when trustees trimmed a year from Clark’s contract, saying it had been illegally extended by a previous board. Winder was not there to talk recall, he said.

“There were discussions about the process the board was going through, the nature of their attack on the superintendent and what I considered a mean spirit toward the employees of the district: ‘Either agree with us, or watch out.’ 

But Winder said he has gone door to door gathering signatures in support of the recall.

“I think it is an important process in the West Ada School District,” he said.

Bill Roberts: 208-377-6408, @IDS_BillRoberts

Friday night meeting: Why now?

Backers of the recall complained Thursday after the board announced a 6 p.m. meeting for Friday, saying it’s part of a pattern of the board scheduling meetings at times that are inconvenient for the public.

Trustees will discuss the recall and possible extension of Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells’ contract. The new trustees were critical last July of the outgoing board’s approval of a contract extension for then-Superintendent Linda Clark, arguing that the contract decision should have been left to the new trustees.

Board chairwoman Tina Dean could not be reached for comment on why the meeting is being held Friday.

One of the trustees targeted for recall is expected to make a statement.

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