By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — The controversy pitting parents and teachers on the one hand against the school board and superintendent on the other, which has roiled the Alton School Board for months, boiled over again this week when, after the board deadlocked over electing a chairperson, Superintendent Maureen Ward recessed the meeting and left the room, followed by two board members — Steve Miller and Sandy Wyatt.
After a mere seven minutes, the abrupt end of the meeting left parents eager to address concerns expressed in a petition presented to the board in February dismayed and frustrated.
"The message they sent was loud and clear," wrote Kim Mochrie in a letter to The Laconia Daily Sun. "They do not want to hear from the community, nor do they respect us, and will take any measure to avoid hearing our concerns or answering our questions." She said that she was "disgusted," found their conduct "deplorable," hoped "this event is addressed by state authorities and dealt with accordingly."
The first item on the agenda was the reorganization of the board following the election last month, including the election of a chairperson. The policies of the board prescribe that "this meeting shall be called to order by the Superintendent, who shall preside during and until the election of a Chairperson."
Four members of the board were present: Miller, the outgoing chairperson, and Wyatt, an incumbent member, as well as two newly elected members, Michael Ball and Peter Leavitt. The fifth member, incumbent Terri Noyes, was ill. Ward called for nominations for chairperson. Miller and Leavitt were nominated and seconded. Each received two votes.
"Is there any chance of reconsideration?" Ward asked. "I don't believe so," Ball replied. "No," said Miller.
Ward opened a public hearing on the acceptance and expenditure of anticipated funds, which passed without comment, then announced "I am not comfortable continuing as your chair" and recessed the meeting "until a full quorum of the board can be here to elect a chair."
"You have a full quorum," Leavitt countered. "No, I don't," Ward responded. "I have a two-two." Leavitt repeated that a quorum was present while Ball asked "Doesn't the board have to vote on this?" Miller reminded him that "We don't have a chair or a vice chair."
Miller, stressing that he was speaking only for himself and not for the board, said yesterday that Ward had no choice but to recess the meeting. Her authority, he explained, began and ended with conducting the election of a chairperson. Without a chairperson, he said, the superintendent has no authority to proceed further.
"We have a legal opinion," he said.
However, Anna Ransom said that Ward failed to fulfill her duties. She insisted that the policy of the district requires the superintendent to chair the school board meeting until a chairperson is elected.
"Instead of working through a tie vote, she walked out," she said. "It's unacceptable."
The episode was the latest skirmish in a conflict that erupted on Feb. 15 when a petition expressing no confidence in Ward as well as with the principal, Cris Blackstone, and special education director, Jennifer Katz Borrin of Alton Central School, was presented to the School Board. With more than 250 signatories, the petition called on the board to impost a moratorium on reductions in personnel, freeze scheduling changes, reinstate laid-off staff, restore the preschool program, maintain the after-school program and keep the current schedule of 180 school days. The petition also urged the board to scuttle the contract with Ward to serve as a consultant and mentor her successor, Pamela Stiles, who will become superintendent on July 1.
Miller, who then chaired the board, told the petitioners that the board would consider their concerns when it met on April 4.
Alton school officials pack up and leave the Monday night School Board meeting minutes after it began. With a 2-2 deadlock on choosing a chairman, they determined the meeting could not conitinue, much to the dismay of those in attendance. (Screenshot from YouTube video)