By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — Over 60 people crowded into the Alton Central School library late Monday afternoon to protest a decision by a majority of the Alton School Board to call an emergency meeting to elect a chairman without consulting with two new members of the board.
Members Steve Miller, Sandy Wyatt and Terri Noyes voted unanimously to name Miller as chairman even though the other two members of the board, Peter Leavitt and Michael Ball, were unable to attend Monday's meeting.
Miller, who was the outgoing chairman, defended the board's decision to act without input from the new members by saying that the board needed a chairman in order to hire staff in a critical shortage area as well as to deal with a pressing personnel issue.
He also said that without a chairman the board has not had anyone who was able to speak for the board in public or as official spokesman to the press since March.
"There are documents to be signed and no committees have been formed," said Miller.
The chairmanship has been vacant since earlier this month when the board deadlocked 2-2 between Miller and Leavitt as chairman at a meeting at which Superintendent Maureen Ward, who is authorized to conduct the election then surrender the chair to the newly elected chairperson, abruptly recessed.
But the argument didn't resonate with those present who were not allowed to provide any public input but nevertheless injected comments throughout the meeting.
Jeffrey Clay, a member of the public who has been critical of Alton town officials, said he believes a meeting at which the three board members decided to call an emergency meeting for this week was conducted in violation of the state Right-to-Know Law.
He urged Miller to resign "for the good of the town," and as the meeting wound up and Miller started to leave said that there was a reason Miller had not been successful in a race for selectmen and that given what has happened on the school board in recent weeks he "couldn't be elected as dogcatcher."
Controversy pitting parents and teachers on the one hand against the school board and superintendent on the other has escalated since February when more than 250 petitioners expressed no confidence in the superintendent and her administration and presented seven other demands. The board has yet to respond to the petition.
Kim Mochrie, a parent, was one of a group of a half dozen people who carried signs outside the school prior to the meeting. She criticized the board for not taking seriously the concerns expressed by the parents over changes at Alton Central School which she said have never been fully explained to the public.
Another parent, Anne Ransom, said that the decision by the three board members to elect a chairman without the participation of the other two board members "is a violation of the spirit of school board ethics.:
She noted that 60 percent of those who voted in this year's school board election supported Leavitt and Ball, which shows a lack of support for the board's policies in recent years.
"People know they have been holding meetings outside of the public view. The board tries to minimize the public concerns which are expressed, but when over 240 people sign a petition showing a vote of no confidence in the administration it shows that the entire community is concerned."
Scott Bickford, vice president of the Alton Teachers Association and a teacher at Alton Central School, said "The school board has not properly responded to many parent concerns, including a letter of no confidence that parents presented to the board at a recent meeting. The board has also ignored the results of a culture and climate survey completed by 38 of 44 teachers. Now the board is not allowing all of its elected members to be a complete part of their process. People want a fair school board that is going to listen to its concerned and frightened parents,community members and teachers. People want a board that will deal with the issues, and a board that will take appropriate, positive action for our students."
More than 60 people showed up at an Alton School Board meeting Monday afternoon to protest the board’s action in calling an emergency meeting to elect a chairman. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
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