Mitchell Board of Education reviews member communication policy, to revisit issue at next meeting
Board also approves, accepts superintendent contract for Joe Childs
MITCHELL — The Mitchell Board of Education on Monday night reviewed the district's policy on electronic communication between board members, agreeing in principle on changes but electing to revisit the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for April 24.
The board made no official move on the current policy in question, but did come to a general consensus on what a revised policy could look like.
The issue with the policy stemmed from a line that could be read as to prohibit Mitchell Board of Education from using email to communicate with other board members at all. That policy was instituted before email was as common a form of communication as it has become in 2023, and Terry Aslesen, the board member who requested the discussion on the agenda, said it was time to bring the policy into the modern era.
“It was (a good discussion). It’s good for us to see what we are doing compared to others. I want it to be simplified for board members to communicate with each other if we need to instead of which hoops do I need to jump through,” Aslesen said.
The board reviewed district Policy 222, which reads as follows:
“All meetings of the Board shall be open to the public, except closed sessions or executive sessions which are held in accordance with the law,” the policy reads. “Due to the possibility that electronic communications between school board members may constitute or lead to a violation of open meeting statutes, Mitchell School Board members shall not utilize electronic communications with other members of the board. However, telephonic and text messaging communication shall be permitted as long as no more than 2 members are in contact in this way at any given time.”
Aslesen said his issue was with the second half of that policy, which states that board members should not utilize email whatsoever. The policy was last revised in July 2011 and last reviewed in June 2019.
Aslesen suggested altering the policy to allow for one-on-one email exchanges between board members, which would allow two members of the board to communicate by email since a quorum of the board would not be in effect. Per his suggestion, in some instances, board members would also be able to use the “reply all” email feature in response to questions that may be of interest to the all board members but isn’t in reference to any official board business.
As an example, Aslesen said it would be useful to be able to reply to everyone in a group email sent out by the superintendent to board members asking if they will be able to attend an open house for a retiring teacher. The communication has no bearing on business that should only be conducted in open session at a board meeting, he said.
The board came to consensus to potentially adopt wording for the policy that mirrors the suggested policy from Associated School Boards of South Dakota (ASBSD), which reads as follows:
“An exchange of information by audio, video, or electronic medium, including the internet, by a quorum of the school board and when official business of the school district is discussed or decided, pr public policy is formulated, is subject to school district policies BD and BDDA and open meetings laws,” the sample policy reads. “Board members shall not use electronic communication as a substitute for discussion or decision-making at regular or special board meetings open to the public.”
The sample policy continues:
“School board members shall not use electronic communication to discuss or reach a consensus, majority opinion or unofficial decision, related to school district business,” it reads.
The wording of the sample policy would allow the extra leeway Aslesen was looking for, which was to be able to send and reply to simple emails that are not related to official board business.
“It seems crazy to not let us use what everyone is using,” Aselsen said.
He also noted that he had inquired with ASBSD and he was told that the organization was unaware of any other school district in the state that explicitly prohibits email use by members of its board of education like Policy 222 does.
In addition to the wording changes, board members also suggested possibly adding a line to the policy that would have board members communicate via official email addresses issued by the school district, as opposed to using their own personal email addresses as the current board does. That would allow some protection for board members in the case board email communications are subpoenaed in the event there is suspicion of an open meeting violation.
In the end, the proposed changes still require the board to act in conjunction with South Dakota open meetings laws, Aslesen said.
“We’re still completely dictated by the open meetings laws, it does not make anything go behind closed doors,” Aselsen said.
The subject is expected to be revisited at the next meeting of the board, where any changes can be further reviewed and refined and assembled into a first reading for any potential policy change.
The board entered executive session for approximately 40 minutes to work on a wording issue with the superintendent contract for Joe Childs. Upon re-entering open session, the board voted unanimously to accept the contract for Childs, which makes him the full-time superintendent with a salary of $175,000.
It was a formality that was nice to have out of the way, said Deb Olson, president of the Mitchell Board of Education.
“That’s really good. We’ve got a superintendent,” Olson said. “(The executive session) was for a wording issue.”
Childs, who has been acting as district superintendent since longtime superintendent Joe Graves vacated the position in January to become the new Secretary of Education for South Dakota. The board of education in March offered the position to Childs following a candidate search and interviews.
Childs said he was ready to continue to work on behalf of Mitchell School District students and their educational experience.
“It’s a little anticlimactic, I’ve been in the interim role since Dr. Graves vacated his position for the South Dakota Secretary of Education (position),” Childs told the Mitchell Republic. “I’ll just continue to do the work of the district and hopefully produce the best results for students.”
The board approved the following personnel moves:
- The new certified hires of Megan McManus, elementary teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, $53,003; Katelyn Albertz, 5th grade teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary, $47,000 and Ronae Klein, assistant girls golf coach, $2,236.
- The new classified hire of Rebecca Genzlinger, administrative assistant at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, $17 per hour, 8 hours daily, effective April 11, 2023.
- The transfers of Audra Bormann, fourth grade teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary to second grade teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and Victoria Erwin, sixth grade science/ELA teacher at Mitchell Middle School to seventh and eighth grade ELA teacher at Mitchell Middle School. Both are effective for the 2023-24 school year.
- The retirement of Craig Mock, vice principal at Mitchell High School, effective at the end of the 2022-23 school year.
- The resignations of Kelsey Berletic, Mitchell Middle School teacher, resigning from a year of absence, effective end of the 2022-23 school year; Kindra Clark, seventh grade girls basketball coach, effective end of the 2022-23 school year pending suitable replacement; Mary Fouss-Disckton, salad bar attendant at L.B. Williams Elementary, effective March 20, 2023; Judy Miiller, administrative assistant at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, effective June 13, 2023; Conner DeRouchey, CCC/computer aide at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, effective end of the 2022-23 school year; Amber Scheele, GATE instructor, effective April 17, 2023 and Danieka Heckenlaible, kindergarten teacher at Longfellow Elementary and 21st Century Grant director, effective April 17, 2023.
- The Mitchell Technical College hires of Dale Mesman, adjunct commercial drivers license instructor at $35 per hour, effective March 22, 2023 and Roxane Hunt, adjunct registered nurse clinical instructor, $6,300, effective Jan. 9, 2023.
Also at the meeting, the board:
- Reviewed the 2023-24 school calendar.
- Approved the MCEA Memorandum of Understanding.
- Approved of the school district at MEA supposal.
- Approved membership in the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
- Approved a renewal motion and participation agreement with Associated School Boards of South Dakota for Protective Trust South Dakota School District Benefits Fund for the 2023-24 school year.
- Heard public commentary.
- Heard board member reports.
- Heard the superintendent report.
- Approved Childs as an authorized signer for the Mitchell School District.
The next meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education is scheduled for Monday, April 24 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 110 at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.