The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

School board surprises many with its strength of voice


A lot of mysteries were cleared up when The Sentinel was able to acquire the letters of reprimand from the Goldendale School District school board to District Superintendent Mark Heid (and his letters of response to them). A lot of mysteries still remain in their aftermath.

A refresher, for anyone just awakening from a coma: Heid was caught trying to circumvent RCWs by selling a golf cart he owned to the district via a third-party “strawman,” as the school board put it. The board had a lot of very strong things to say about that. It also took Heid to task for his out-of-line handling of an investigation into complaints by community parents and students about volleball coach Jodi Bellamy. The board frankly just lit into Heid.

(Heid, it must be noted, took sharp issue with most of the board’s comments on the golf cart matter and retorted at one point that the board had embarrassed itself.)

Many were stunned at the forceful directness of the letters from the board. Certain individuals on the board are thought by some to be blunt and direct in their own personal opining, and speculation is that those strident voices were dominant in the letters.

But the bigger surprise is that the board had a voice at all. How would one have known? Its demonstrative inclinations have been chiefly through board chair John Hoctor, whose direction of public meetings has been characterized as curt to the point of being rude. The board’s notices about public comment at its meetings are clearly covered with anxious attorney fingerprints; here’s what it says:

“It is the board’s goal for a public comment period to hear your concerns or share positive comments.” [Note: positive only.] “Persons interested in sharing views with the board about any agenda item are encouraged to sign in with the board secretary at the beginning of the meeting.” [Note: not everyone gets it that this means you have to sign up to speak and it can only be about items already on the agenda, which forestalls any spontaneity.] “Due to legal repercussions, persons sharing negative views may not name individual students, district employees, or volunteers.” [Note: perhaps you should bring sock puppets to refer to specific people.] “When your name is called, please stand and limit your comments to two minutes. Please do not address questions to the board.” [Note: sorry, what was that again? I can’t ask the board any questions??] “These may be answered through calls or letters to board members.” [Note: oh, OK, sure.]

If you can actually reach a board member, it might have added. A more obfuscatory process to engage in a voice or electronic conversation with a board member can scarcely be imagined.

The board is essentially telling parents—that’s the people who voted for the board members and who are likely to rethink the seriousness of that responsibility next time around—that at meetings they can say nice things or bring up an oblique concern with an egg timer running, but if you mean to raise serious issues, you need to pass a liability test. And questions? What are you thinking? It’s a public meeting, for heaven’s sake.

This is flat-out legal paranoia, especially not being able to simply ask questions in a meeting, a restriction bordering on the absurd. Public agencies right here in the county and city, with a lot more to lose than the district, have nothing remotely resembling these restrictions. All these do is raise a wall between the district and parents behind which the board acts in extreme covertness, like the Chinese National People’s Congress, watched by Western think tanks trying to discern what it’s doing and what its actions mean. Parents here are little think tanks wondering what in the world the school board thinks and is doing, and they’re often rebuffed when they try to find out.

That’s why the board’s language to Heid was such a surprise, though it took a public records request to obtain the letters; otherwise they might never have seen the light of day. So how is it that the board’s blunt statements represent any less potential liability than a parent with a sharp complaint or two? What is the school board thinking and doing? To whom does it answer?

It’s time for a lot of answers.


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