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MEEKER | Due to spring break next week, the Meeker Board of Education (BOE) held their March meeting a week early. Again, the most discussed and somewhat contentious issue was whether or not the district should continue to have an unpaid extended leave of absence policy for teachers. Such a leave would be unrelated to any health or family matters, and be for further education or related purposes.
The current policy describes a one or two semester leave to be available to no more than one teacher per year after which that teacher can return to the district and expect to fill any open position for which he or she is qualified. This was the third and final reading on the policy which Superintendent Chris Selle recommended for repeal in January. Selle expressed concern about the difficult situation that could be created having to replace a teacher on leave and then being expected to hire that teacher back when they return. The board voted 4-2 to eliminate the policy on second reading in February.
Board member Kevin Amack made the motion to repeal the policy. Board vice-president, Tom Allen, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of board president Bud Ridings said he could go along with eliminating the current extended leave policy if they would all agree to revisit the matter. Allen has said that he feels providing the opportunity for an extended leave for teachers is an important possibility in the hiring and retaining good staff.
Board member Dr. Bob Dorsett, stated that he agrees with Allen, saying teachers he has talked with would like to have this opportunity. Dorsett suggested that concerns about adequate replacements for good teachers on leave and the possible disruption of students’ logical educational progression were issues that could be satisfactorily addressed with good management. He also agreed that the current policy needs tweaking and suggested that here in Meeker the district wouldn’t see the policy used that much anyway.
Selle clarified that in his view, if the board voted to repeal the policy then they ought to leave the issue lie for some period of time, i.e., it would be a statement by the board that they did not wish to have an extended leave policy. If they wanted a revised policy, they should vote against the repeal and he would immediately start work on drafting an alternative for them to consider.
Dorsett suggested the board consider that the extended leave option could be used by the district to give a somewhat deficient teacher the opportunity to improve abilities and skills. Amack argued that he simply does not like the idea of promising a guaranteed job when a teacher on leave returns to the district. He said he foresees that it might be very difficult for the district to hire a qualified replacement to fill the role of a qualified teacher on leave.
In response, Dorsett indicated that at this point in time, Meeker was fortunate to have a half dozen highly qualified, respected retired teachers that could easily be brought in to replace a teacher on leave. Member Davey Smith expressed disappointment that the board had not heard from any teachers if they were in fact so interested in the extended leave option. When brought to a vote, the motion to repeal the policy passed 4-2 with members Amack, Bill deVergie, Todd Shults and Smith voting to repeal.
Other actions included approval of policies concerning the district’s discrimination complaint and compliance processes; sponsoring foreign student travel; professional staff training; support staff vacations and holidays; and the use of retired staff. In addition, the board looked at some additional eight policies on first reading.
On the matter of the requirement that the school board have a representative on the Urban Renewal Authority board established by the Town of Meeker, the board unanimously chose Tom Allen.
Regarding personnel, the board approved Judy Kurth as a substitute; Jorgen Stagg as a student IT aide; Marty Casey, Greg Chintala and Samantha Wilson as middle school track coaches; and Hallie Blunt for the new elementary/middle school counselor position.
The board’s agenda included an executive session for the review of superintendent Selle’s evaluation. Due to the fact that the evaluation was not yet available, this item was postponed.