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Board members in, coaches out at Drummond School Board meeting

0 Struna de Santiago IMG 0247
0 Verlanic Sworn In IMG 0229
0 Koon Project IMG 0220
0 Struna Sworn In IMG 0225

DRUMMOND - It was a night of changes at the monthly Drummond School Board meeting. Some were expected, others came out of the blue.

After an hour of discussion on various topics (including the school's proposed drainage project and installation of new board members, both which are covered below) the meeting finally turned to the purpose for which most of the 50-plus attendees came for - the rehiring of Lady Trojans Head Basketball Coach and Athletic Director Sara Wagner.

When it was all over, Wagner was not rehired to either position.

For more than 1-hour, 25-minutes the Drummond School Board allowed members of the community, including some members of Wagner's 2017-2018 basketball team, to comment on their experience with the coach since she took over the team midseason in 2016.

Comments ranged from those supporting Wagner and her work with the team to those that voiced claims of favoritism, retaliation and discouraging practices that some parents claimed ruined their players love of the game.

Current player Sara Kielley and Jay Allen were among those that spoke in favor Wagner's performance, citing the value that they see her bringing much to the team both on and off the court. Others, such as former player Allie Parke, her mother Claudette and Donna Seekell's father Bryan Seekell talked specifically about actions that they felt disparaged and demoralized their children under Wagner's guidance.

Before the nearly 90 minutes of commentary began, board member Leslie de Santiago moved to rehire Wagner and her assistant, Brooks Phillips, for the 2018-2019 season. Newly installed board member Alex Verlanic seconded the motion.

But as the comments began to wane, Phillips spoke and reminded the board that the discussion that the board was allowing to take place was in direct violation of workplace law.

"I just want to know if the school board members are aware of policy 1441 for the way the school board is supposed to deal with situations like this?" Phillips questioned. "In the Montana Constitution Article 2, Sections 8 and 9, any time you bring up directly an individual or in a position that implies who that person is, the meeting is supposed to be closed. The only people that are allowed in that meeting are the school board, the superintendent and the person being talked about along with the people that have that complaint and want to talk about them."

That brought the meeting to an abrupt halt, with the board closing the meeting and bringing Wagner and Phillips and their husbands in for a discussion that lasted approximately 90 minutes.

When the meeting was finally reopened to the public, the board had clerk Toby Wetsch read aloud the letters that had been sent in regarding Wagner's rehire. All 10 of the letters were in her favor. However, the letters that had been submitted at the start of the meeting, some of which were not in favor of her being rehired, were not read as the board said they had just received them that night.

When the motion was finally voted on, de Santiago and Verlanic voted in favor of Wagner being rehired while board members Bob Suthers and Scott Struna voted against. The hung vote meant the motion did not pass and that Wagner and Phillips were not rehired for next season.

Neither Wagner nor Phillips returned requests for comment Monday night after the meeting.

The meeting went fairly uneventfully after that, as the board approved the rehire of the boy's basketball coach, kitchen staff, aide, custodial team, clerical staff and nurse. But when Wagner came up for her position as athletic director, tensions again mounted in the room.

This time the board made it clear that attendees could voice only their support or non-support of Wagner's being rehired. Five voiced in favor of Wagner remaining as the school's A.D. while one was against.

Verlanic made the motion to rehire Wagner to the position with de Santiago seconding, but when the vote was taken Verlanic joined Suthers in a 'no' vote. With de Santiago and Struna voting in favor, Wagner was again left on the losing side of a 2-2 vote that reopened the position.

The board approved the dues for its participation in the MHSA and MSGIA programs before adjourning for the night. The meeting will continue Tuesday at 6 p.m.

 

New Board Members

Alex Verlanic was officially recognized as the winner of the Drummond School Board election near the start of the meeting, having beaten former board member Andy Weaver 200-82. The board canvassed the vote and signed off on it to make it official.

Scott Struna was sworn in along with Verlanic, having won his second term by acclamation as he ran with no opponent. Toby Wetsch was also sworn in as the Clerk for another year.

When the board went to select a new chairman, concern was raised by several in the gallery when the possibility of making Leslie de Santiago the new board chairman was raised. The question was posed to de Santiago by members of the gallery if she was leaving the area at month's end, to which she replied that her family didn't know exactly when it would be. "It may be a month or two or three," she said.

Citizens then somewhat debated amongst themselves, through public comment, as to whether or not it was ethical for her to stay on a board and make long-term decisions when she knew she would not be around to enforce or be effected by them.

In the end, the board selected Struna to be the new chair and he asked that the board keep de Santiago on as Vice Chair to use her knowledge of board proceedings until she finally did leave her position. The board voted thusly.

 

Drummond School Drainage Project

Brad Koon and Triple Tree Engineering were on hand early in the meeting to discuss updates on the proposed construction project that is designed to improve drainage and runoff around the school during wet and frigid weather.

Documentation handed out at the meeting had a May 28, 2018 projected start date. After the board meeting closed, Drummond Superintendent Bryan Kott indicated that to his knowledge the school had all of the necessary permits in place to begin the project.

However, Town of Drummond Board Member Earl Clute, who was also at the meeting, told QSPNLive that the documentation that the school has filed is incomplete at present and will not even be voted on until Tuesday night's regularly scheduled meeting. If the permits are not approved, the school would either have to wait until the June town council meeting or request a special meeting once they have final plans and details for the project.

by Tim Allen, QSPNLive.com