November 3, 2011 |

School board seats Jones; Vote follows secret ballot

The Haines Borough school board on Tuesday appointed former member Brenda Jones to a vacant seat.

The unanimous vote came moments after a secret ballot of board members that board chair Carol Kelly tallied and said established majority support for Jones. Sara Chapell had also submitted a letter of interest for the seat.

Member Anne Marie Palmieri was absent.

In other action, the board:

• Approved hire of a special education aide to address a behavior problem in the middle school;

• Heard that leaks continue into the superintendent’s office despite a recent roof replacement there; and,

• Planned a January workshop to complete discussion of revising high school graduation requirements.

In interviews after the meeting, Kelly said that the meeting’s secret ballot was not a violation of open meetings law – that prohibits elected officials from taking action in private – because it was only advisory.

Kelly said she "imagined" that board members would act in accordance with the secret vote when casting their official vote. "That would be my imagination but I can’t tell you that that’s accurate." Members could still cast their official votes contrary to the results of the secret vote, she said.

The purpose of the secret vote is "advisory to tell the board what our sentiment is without embarrassing candidates," Kelly said.

Kelly said the board has used such secret ballots for nine years and said that she believed they also did not violate the spirit of the open meetings law.

"We did not seat a member by a private vote. We seated them by a public vote… As far as I’m concerned, everything we did was above the board," Kelly said.

Kelly after the meeting said the secret ballot tally was 4-2, and that student council president Royal Henderson voted for Chapell. Henderson’s vote on the board is only advisory and does not count toward official actions. "I just happened to notice which one was his," Kelly said.

Four votes are required for the school board to take action on matters.

Jones serves on the Haines Chamber of Commerce board and works in business management and accounting. Chapell is president of the Chilkat Valley Preschool and Friends of the Library and writes the "Duly Noted" social column in the Chilkat Valley News.

Kelly said choosing between Jones and Chapell was difficult and that both were excellent candidates. The vacant seat was created when no candidates for it came forward during the municipal election.

Hiring the special education aide will cost the district about $35,000 for the remainder of the year and will help maintain safety for students, assistant principal Michelle Byer told the school board. The school is required by law to educate students whose behavior issues are manifestation of a disability, Byer said.

She reassured board members that the district wouldn’t hesitate to bring in local police when necessary to maintain student safety.

Superintendent Michael Byer said his office roof has leaked twice since a new membrane was installed above his office by Heger Construction last summer. Byer said he didn’t believe the problem was related to the new membrane itself but may be related to seals around roof edges. "I can’t say that I know that as an absolute fact."

The roof, which is leaking less than it was before placement of the membrane, is under warranty, Byer said. He said he would refer the matter to borough facilities director Brian Lemcke and maintenance man Gary Stigen.

The board said it would hold a workshop sometime between Jan. 17-19 on high school graduation requirements. The workshop would complete discussion of an issue that surfaced with concerns that some high school seniors who have fulfilled requirements attend school only part-time.

Superintendent Byer has said he would survey other districts’ policies on the question. On Tuesday he submitted a list of graduation credits required by other districts. With 24.5 credits, Haines appeared to be about average for like-sized schools in Southeast.

Other districts’ credit requirements include: Craig (25), Mount Edgecumbe (23), Petersburg (24) and Wrangell (26).

One option discussed by the board is establishing a separate "college prep" diploma that would require additional credits.