Most of Hayden School Board in violation of policy that prohibits board members from being employed by district
Board members say they have likely been violating policy for decades
HAYDEN — Three of the Hayden Board of Education’s five members are technically ineligible to serve because of their employment with the district, a policy members said they likely have been violating for decades.
The violation was discovered about two weeks ago, around the same time retired teacher Kevin Kleckler announced his candidacy for the school board in November’s election, where three of the seats will be up for reelection.
The board met in a special meeting Monday night — initially scheduled for 6:30 a.m. that morning — to consider amending the policy to allow some district employees to serve on the board but not all of them.
The amended language would pave the way for the three current board members to serve but would limit Kleckler because he returned to the district to teach two classes this year and is receiving benefits.
“When first alerted to this Friday, I was shocked,” Kleckler said during public comment Monday night. “I’m feeling discriminated against.”
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Board members emphasized that updating the policy was not an attempt to stifle Kleckler’s candidacy before it started, rather it was an outdated policy that they needed to update in accordance with how the district has been operating for years.
With just days before the Aug. 26 deadline for candidates to file to get on the ballot in November, the board opted to delay updating the policy. Members also said they would create a clause that would allow Kleckler, or another district employee, to serve on the school board if elected, without resigning his current role.
“I feel like this is a double-edged sword,” said board member Aden Morrison, who works as a middle school basketball assistant coach. “I feel like, if we don’t put it off right now, it is going to be perceived as a block vote. That is not what we are trying to do.”
As currently written, working for the district is considered a conflict of interest. District staff must resign their position with the district upon being elected to the school board.
The updated policy would add one paragraph allowing substitute or temporary employees of the district to serve on the board.
“Substitute employees include, but are not limited to, substitute teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, coaches and other noncontractual, nonbenefited roles,” the draft of the updated policy reads.
In addition to Morrison, Board President Brain Hoza is a substitute teacher and Vice-President Tim Frentress is an afternoon bus driver. All have offered to resign their jobs with the district to remain on the board. Hoza is not pursuing reelection this fall, but Frentress and Morrison each said they intend to run again.
Kleckler is teaching two hours per day, helping mentor the new welding teacher and is receiving health insurance benefits. Kleckler also has offered to resign if he were elected.
“If all of us resigned, that is going to put the school in a bind and put the kids in a bind,” Frentress said, referencing short staff in the district already.
Monday’s meeting was originally scheduled for 6:30 a.m. on Hayden’s first day of school, a time that Kleckler and other parents criticized during the meeting. Superintendent Christy Sinner said the meeting was scheduled then because the board believed it needed to rectify the policy before the start of the school year.
The meeting was moved to 6 p.m. after community outreach, Sinner said.
The meeting was the first back-in-person one for the board, and the room was about half full with parents, several of whom suggested the board delay the policy change until after the election or create a specific carve out so that people who were already working to run would still be able to.
There is no state law that forbids a teacher or other school staff from serving on the school board; rather it is a board policy. Parents said having that voice on the board could be helpful.
“It’s no secret that our school and school staff struggle with retention, internal morale, inclusion, feeling unheard and hostility amongst administration,” said parent Ashley Sweetser. “Teacher insight in education policy brings a voice from the educational frontlines to this discussion.”
Board members admitted the timing did not look good, but they did see more of an issue with a teacher serving on the board than a bus driver or athletic coach. Frentress estimated a teacher would need to recuse themselves from half the decisions the board makes. Hoza suggested it could be more like 75% of decisions.
“We already have voting challenges,” Hoza said. “When one person isn’t present or abstains, it creates greater opportunities for the lack of enough of a quorum.”
Sinner suggested the board could table the discussion and postpone a vote on the policy until the September meeting. By then, she would ask the district’s legal consultant to write up a clause that would essentially grandfather in a candidate like Kleckler. This policy wouldn’t go into effect until after the election.
If elected, Kleckler would be able to serve on the board and retain his position at the school. Still, the policy would prevent teachers in future elections from serving on the school board without resigning.
“I feel like what we are doing is writing what we’ve been doing and making that policy,” said board member Kevin Lind. “I think it is unfortunate that everybody assumes that we are doing this against (Kleckler). … That has nothing to do with it.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
The Moffat County School District is now offering weekly updates with Superintendent Scott Pankow.