Education

West Ada trustees facing recall defend their records

Why Tina Dean says she should not be recalled

West Ada School District Trustee Tina Dean says she puts students first in her decisions.
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West Ada School District Trustee Tina Dean says she puts students first in her decisions.

Q: Give me your best case for why you think you should not be recalled?

Sayles: We have done our due diligence to follow the law. We have taken our fiduciary responsibility extremely to heart. When I make a decision I consider the parents, the patrons, and most of all I consider how it will this affect kids. Therefore I do not believe I should be recalled.

Dean: The only reason I ever joined this board in the first place was because I had former students and children of my own in this district. They have been my only concern, as is evidenced by the fact that sometimes I make adults unhappy to do what is best for kids. Also some of the statements made about me in the recall petition are libelous. I have never caused chaos or been disruptive at a board meeting. It is so far against my nature. That is a clear libelous statement and there are damages that can be awarded for that. I am concerned only with getting this district back to focusing on kids.

Q: Tina, how do you think we got here?

Dean: I think partly what got us here was a misunderstanding of a lot of the people behind the recall. First of all, Carol and I weren’t new to the board. Two of us who had been on the board for some time were conjoined with two new members, and there was a story told we were collaborating to change the district.

Q: Is that story incorrect?

Dean: Absolutely. Without a doubt. I had never met any of the board members, current or former, before they were elected. I was completely surprised by the events in October when the recall talk was first made public.

Q: At the first meeting after the May elections, newly elected Trustee Russell Joki talked about this being a new era for the board and how things were going to be done differently. Do you think you unfairly got swept into that?

Dean: Yes. Those were comments made by an individual elected to an individual post. For those comments to be attributed to other members of the board who were duly elected is unrealistic.

Q: Carol, would you give me your sense of what Tina was just talking about?

Sayles: It’s easy to paint everybody with the same brush. The view of the recallers was that we were all the same — even though I made my decisions separately as a board member, with the information we had at hand.

Q: When former Trustee Joki made that statement about a new era, do you think that included you?

Sayles: He was speaking for himself.

Q: Two of the trustees who were up for recall have resigned. Are you going to resign before this recall?

Sayles: No. I am not going to resign unless I have a major, catastrophic health problem. But I don’t anticipate a major, catastrophic health problem.

Dean: I have no plans to resign at all.

Q: What is your sense about how we ended up at this point, where the two of you are being considered for a recall?

Sayles: There will be always people who do not like decisions that we make, and I believe that there were a select few people who did not like our decisions. They decided to recall us.

Q: What decisions are you thinking of? Anything in particular?

Sayles: No. Just the basic direction that we took, the direction of asking questions, inquiring, doing our due diligence. There is a certain number of people who were unhappy with what and how we did.

Q: It has been suggested that developers, people with land interests, people who think about building subdivisions, got worried about where this board was going and put together a plan to get you out, to get a group of trustees who might be a little more attentive to their interests. Do you believe that?

Sayles: I have no knowledge of that.

Dean: I have no information on which to believe or to disbelieve that. It doesn’t make sense to me. If families move here and we have more kids, we need to buy more property to build more schools. I don’t understand how this board would impede progress.

Sayles: Especially since we have no control over the building permits that the city gives out. When a child walks through that door, we educate them.

Q: Is there a way you could have handled the situation with now-former Superintendent Linda Clark better, to prevent the blow up the district had in October?

Sayles: Shall we go back to (Gov.) Butch Otter? She was told, when she was appointed to the State Board of Education, she was to tell no one, including her board. That blindsided every person on that board. We had no knowledge what was happening. And all of a sudden, that comes out on the news? We all said: “Why didn’t you tell us.” I think that is unfair, and I think that is what started us. We didn’t learn until September (months after Clark’s July appointment) that she had been sworn not to divulge it. It was the mistrust. You have to have total and complete trust between the superintendent and the board. Something like that breaks the bonds of trust.

(Clark told the Statesman she was not permitted to tell her board until 15 minutes before the public announcement in July. Trustees “did not ask me any questions about it at any point,” Clark said.)

Dean: We took a lot of complaints from people in the public about our questioning Dr. Clark’s appointment on the State Board. I don’t think one of us questioned her ability or her skill-set or her expertise. Did Gov. Otter make a good recommendation? Yeah, I think he did. I know how much time I invest during my work life, during my personal life, in this servant role of a school trustee for just one local school district. It would have been unwise of us to not assume that the State Board of Education would take more of our superintendent’s time than a local school board would take. So our responsibility first is to our students and our staff to make sure we had adequate representation at the local level.

Q: Carol seems to suggest this was the beginning of the relationship fraying. Do you agree with that?

Dean: I won’t disagree with it. But I think I would have a more difficult time putting a finger on it.

Q: Some of the early board meetings after the May election were spirited. You don’t see that as much anymore. What has happened over time?

Dean: Well, to be clear, my behavior has never changed. I don’t believe Carol’s behavior has changed over the three years I have been on the board with her. I don’t believe (Trustee Mike Vuittonet’s) behavior has changed. You just have different personalities. This is part of the problem of recalling four people at once. The larger personalities get attributed to every member of the group. I think that is wholly unfair. The meetings still contain many questions and many discussions and many answers.

Q: The recall petition talks about board members being disruptive at meetings. What do you say?

Sayles: They don’t know me. They have not been at those meetings. Never at a meeting was I disruptive.

Dean: The (terms) disruptive and chaos are very upsetting to me. And anyone who wants to invest the time is free to go back and listen to all of the meeting (audio) and read all the meeting minutes. In fact, when members of the audience or other members of the board may have been speaking out of turn, I have done my best to redirect them and get us back on track.

Q: The petition complains about lack of transparency. What do you think?

Sayles: We ask questions. I mean Hillsdale Elementary (where school construction faces a $5 million cost overrun). That’s not good for kids, because you are spending money on things that will not directly impact children. So we ask questions. Is that not transparent?

Dean: As for not being transparent, again, not accurate. Most of my contact from patrons is via email and except for the occasions when we have multiple 20s or hundreds of emails when there is a very public topic, I respond to all of them even though this is not a paid position. We don’t have ... district offices to work from. We do it after our jobs, after time with our families.

Q: Is there anything you would have done differently since July?

Sayles: Probably not.

Tina: While I certainly could have taken the opportunity to explain myself and provide commentary to some of the negative comments over the last few months, I felt that would have only served to continue to detract our time and attention from our students and would have violated other persons expectations of privacy. My responsibility as a trustee is to serve our students, not to serve my own political self-interest.

Why are trustees facing recall?

Recall supporters say the board has not been fiscally responsible.

They say the board spent $145,000 on multiple attorneys. Trustee Mike Vuitonnet, who has supported the recall, said the trustees spent $37,000 trying to break then-Superintendent Linda Clark’s three-year contract.

Recall backers contend that the board has ignored or denied public input on questions facing the district and accused trustees of doing too much business in closed-door executive sessions.

Although the recall petition does not specifically address it, backers early on raised questions about the board’s treatment of Clark.

During a September meeting in which the board eliminated the third year of Clark’s three-year contract, Christine Donnell, a former district superintendent, called the board’s treatment of Clark a “travesty” and announced plans for a recall.

Donnell and others circulated petitions that got enough votes to qualify for the recall of four trustees: Julie Madsen, Russell Joki, Carol Sayles and Tina Dean. Both Madsen and Joki have resigned.

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