Guymon inflames school board forum with pledge to fire superintendentFour candidates for Mitchell school board give opinions on Graves, facilities, state funding and more at election forum.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Mitchell school board candidate Craig Guymon delivered on his promise to “light the room up” at the Mitchell Board of Education candidates’ forum Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute.
Dressed in a camouflaged T-shirt and cap, Guymon delivered an opening statement that set a theme: “I believe the control freak Joe Graves needs to be fired.” Guymon, nearly shouting at times, said he was taking the opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights. Guymon used every opportunity during the meeting to criticize Superintendent Graves’ leadership.
About 80 people gathered to hear incumbents Neil Putnam and Theresa Kriese debate the issues with challengers Ed Potzler, a retired software engineer, and Guymon.
Potzler said Mitchell has done an admirable job preparing students when measured by South Dakota standards, but in the future students will be measured by the global marketplace. In that regard, he said, Mitchell is only operating at the 60th percentile and needs to improve.
Both Kriese and Putnam said the district is doing a good job preparing students. Putnam said the district is “doing more with less,” students are achieving and the schools are racking up a record of distinguished accomplishments.
“It’s easy to be your ambassador when there’s so much to brag about,” said Putnam, who is running for a fifth term of office and is a past president of the South Dakota Association of School Boards.
Kriese said it’s her belief the district is doing a good job preparing its student as well as shaping their human character and potential.
Asked if the board was rubber stamping issues presented to them, Guymon jumped on the question.
“I agree 555 percent,” he said. “All five are rubber stamping, absolutely.” He charged Graves with “false humility,” and presenting “partial truths and damnable lies.” Timekeeper John Claggett warned Guymon to watch his language.
Putnam said he has disagreed with board decisions in the past but his positions were always treated respectfully. “I have the utmost respect for the administration and support staff,” he said.
Kriese said it’s the job of a school board to hire competent administrators. “It’s not our role to micromanage,” she said, but to hold staff responsible for meeting the board’s expectations. “We have had healthy discussions on issues,” she said.
Potzler, however, agreed that the “school board is very pro-Dr. Graves,” but he also said that Graves is “an excellent superintendent, but I would like to see more board pro-activity.” He said the board tries to figure out ways to implement recommendations made to them, instead of discussing if those recommendations should be done.
There were a variety of opinions about whether the MTI north campus building should be a multi-purpose building that would contain the city council offices, a library and a career and technical academy.
Kriese called the technical academy a great plan for career training that will prepare students for life beyond high school, and that she was open to ideas for a joint venture. Putnam agreed but he said he could speak to other uses.
Potzler said any plan that would save the taxpayers money should be considered. Any use of the building would have tax advantages, he said. He did not believe that the MTI campus would be a good choice for a city hall because its location would be difficult for visitors to find. “The location doesn’t fit city hall,” he said.
Guymon said the Mitchell library should absolutely not go in the MTI north building; to do so would put more power and control in Graves’ hands, he said. As the school district’s head librarian Graves would use his influence to decide what books children should read. Guymon, going off-topic, also repeated charges that the school board in 2002 falsely represented a $700,000 opt-out that has become permanent, instead of time limited.
Potzler said school board members could, if they chose to, explore ways to time-limit the opt-out. Asked about future building plans, Guymon said the district could have a $3 million dollar down-payment to put toward a new high school if it had not used the money for an unnecessary stadium at Joe Qunital Field. The old stadium should have been renovated for $500,00, he said.
No other candidate addressed Guymon’s points directly. Putnam said he’s proud of the district facilities and, “I’m not going to apologize.”
Kriese said the district learned the hard way that it needs to be proactive about facility development and it has been effective in facility planning. Speaking about HB1234 Potlzer said personal experience as a manager showed him that merit pay, one aspect of the bill, creates problems and can be “demoralizing to staff.” Kriese expressed the belief that any state mandate should also come with funding, and Guymon said any merit pay system would only perpetuate a system of power consolidation and cronyism.