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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Series of IMS board meetings cause a ruckus

The Island Middle School board of directors met three times in the past week with evidence of increasing tension and animosity between members becoming apparent.

A once-united board has recently been deadlocked on how to govern board meetings and, as a byproduct, issues some board members deem vital for discussion have been repeatedly swept under the table.

The board held a work session Saturday, Feb. 21, and two special meetings, one Tuesday, Feb. 24, and again Thursday, Feb. 26.

At the Saturday work session, board member Noranne Hutcheson attempted to clarify the powers of the president of the corporation as defined in the IMS bylaws.

She questioned whether the intent of the bylaws allowed the president to make decisions on behalf of the board without input from other board members, and perhaps even without the knowledge of other board members.

IMS parent Scott Bassett objected to any discussion regarding the president's duties, stating the board president, who was unable to attend the meeting, should address them, and that it was not noticed on the agenda as a point of discussion.

Hutcheson attempted to raise the topic again at the following two special board meetings and was unable to bring the topic to the table when she motioned to contract an independent third party to clarify the powers and duties of the president of the corporation.

Hutcheson again was told she could not raise the issue without proper notice on the agenda.

Parent representative Shellie Hodges objected to the restriction, claiming that the lack of clarification is hindering the daily operation of the school.

Hodges and Hutcheson insisted that a conflict they believe is hampering daily operations should receive immediate attention from the board.

Board chairman and president Genie Salter said she preferred to stick to the advertised agenda and discuss the matter at the next regular board meeting.

At this week's meetings, all items not published on the agenda and brought to the table by either a concerned board member, administrative member or parent were restricted from discussion.

At the Thursday evening meeting, pandemonium broke loose when Hutcheson was again unable to bring her issue to the table, IMS Director Kelly Parsons was restricted from asking the board a question pertaining to her duties and obligations, and parents were restricted from making public comment.

Salter said the chairman has the discretion to allow public comment or to add additional items to the agenda and she declined to do both.

Board member Marlene West explained that the board needed to be cautious in discussing any item that might be controversial and that the board did not want to open itself to any future lawsuits by proceeding inappropriately.

Several parents were outraged at the decision, threatening to pull their students from the school if the board refused to hear their concerns. Some went so far as to call for the resignation of some board members.

Board member Kimberly Holmstrom added fuel to the fire when she motioned that Hodges be removed from the board. She said she has tried to remain impartial and listen to all sides of an issue but, after witnessing Hodges make disparaging remarks about the board in front of staff and parents, she now believes Hodges should be removed from the board.

Hodges and Hutcheson walked away from the table, arguing that it was unfair that select board members were allowed to bring new agenda items to the table.

"Why are they the only ones allowed to talk?" Hodges asked the parents. "I've been told I'm not allowed to talk to the parents. Why don't they want my vote?"

West commented that the meeting had turned into "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Parents argued that the school is in trouble and the board is the root cause of disharmony at the school.

The room splintered into several arguments, amongst them Hutcheson pleading with West, "Do you want this school to continue? This is your baby and mine. Do you want the kids and teachers to leave and the county to close this school?"

Parsons also pleaded with West to "do the right thing."

Salter adjourned the meeting and she and Holmstrom left, while some parents stayed on to vent their frustrations.

The board still has unfinished business to discuss, including finishing charter renewal documents; clarifying the IMS bylaws; developing a code of ethics; establishing qualifications for board candidates; defining the duties of the board, the executive director and the structure of governance; and establishing a method for mediating issues that require privacy.