The Letcher County Board of Education met in a closed-door session again this week, the third time in as many meetings.
At a special meeting May 14, the board went into a private session after board attorney Darrell Hall said the board needed to discuss possible litigation that may arise from The Mountain Eagle’s complaints that the board has been meeting out of the public’s view illegally.
Thirty-four minutes after it went behind closed doors, the board emerged from the “executive session” and said “no action was taken.”
Earlier in the special meeting, the board approved the purchase of 50 new football helmets for the Letcher County Central High School football program.
New LCCHS Head Coach Mike Holcomb recommended buying Revolution Speed helmets by Riddell, which he said his teams have been using since 2007.
“It’s a real nice helmet for the players to wear,” said Holcomb, former Breathitt County High School football coach. “This is a higher protection helmet. It takes care of the risk of head injuries. We want to do the best we can.”
Holcomb told the board that some of the LCCHS helmets have been in use since consolidation of the three high schools in 2006 and have been repainted. He said cost of reconditioning helmets is about $36 each.
Holcomb price-checked the Riddell helmets and got a quote for $10,000 for 50 helmets.
“I think it would be a great asset,” said Holcomb.
LCCHS Athletic Director Arthur “Ozz” Jackson told the board that new helmets won’t be an every-year purchase.
“ This has been a big thing in the news — these concussions,” said Board Member Will Smith. “This is something we really need to do. We can’t sacrifice the safety of our kids. We can’t be too safe.”
Holcomb said the new helmets should be usable for at least four years.
In other business, board member Mendy Boggs suggested that the board itself take charge of approving all overnight trips for school district employees, which the board does not now do.
Boggs said the new rule should apply to “board members, teachers and everybody” so there is a paper trail.
“I know that creates a big paper mess in a lot of ways, but it would also be a protection,” said Boggs.
Sandy Hogg, a member of the district’s policies and procedures committee, said employees already fill out travel request forms, which are signed by a supervisor before the employee leaves on the trip.
“We do it for everybody, but we don’t bring it before the board,” said Hogg.
Smith said he didn’t think the board should micromanage. He added that if the board approved all overnight trips for employees, a nightmare scenario could be created if the board had to call several special meetings just to approve employee trips.
“I think you have to have faith in those who work for you that they’re doing their job,” added Letcher Schools Supt. Anna Craft.
Board Chairman Robert Kiser tabled action on the recommendation by Boggs until the board gets information from the policy and procedures committee.
Boggs then discussed the use of board-owned property by district employees. Boggs said she learned at a recent Kentucky School Boards Association conference that when an employee drives a board-owned vehicle from home to work and back the vehicle is considered to be in personal use and those miles are required to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
“It’s just a protection for people who drive those vehicles,” said Boggs.
Smith said the IRS rule is probably something that 90 percent of districts aren’t following correctly.
“That’s a good point,” said Smith. “We need to bring that into compliance.”
The issue will be addressed by the policies and procedures committee.
Boggs also discussed the idea of having two board members review the district’s accounts payable before the board approves the monthly financial report at board meetings.
She suggested that a board member or two board members who are older and more experienced go over receipts and requests to make sure everything is in order.
“In the end the board is who is going to answer for it and where it goes,” said Boggs.
Smith said it would add a tremendous amount of paperwork.
“ I don’t want to go through it, because it is a ton,” said Smith. “I’d be fine if somebody wants to do it. I’m not going to do it.”
Kiser said board members wouldn’t necessarily have to review accounts payable every month, but spot check to see if things look out of the ordinary.
Board attorney Hall suggested that board members simply begin the practice of looking at the accounts payable on a random basis. Doing so, Hall said, would not require board action.
Board secretary Debbie Cook read a letter from The Mountain Eagle into the meeting’s record as directed by Hall. The letter requests that the board immediately comply with the Kentucky Open Meetings Law and that it declare its action last week to abolish the position of assistant superintendent null and void.
Hall acknowledged that the abolishment of the assistant superintendent position was not handled properly during a special meeting on May 7.
“For the board to take action, it does require the majority of the board and as a result of that the motion to abolish the position of assistant superintendent no action was taken on that because we had a majority of the quorum present, but we didn’t have the majority of the board,” Hall said.
Hall also asked each board member to state for record if he or she had contacted each other by telephone to discuss the agenda for the special meeting on May 7. The letter from The Eagle maintains that such calls are improper.
Hall said the open meetings law does not prevent one board member from calling another to educate him or her as to what is going to be discussed at the meeting.
“The statute simply prohibits one board member from trying to get a commitment as to how this other board member is going to vote,” said Hall. “The statute makes it very clear that there’s no harm in calling up someone — another fellow board member — to educate them to the issues.”
Kiser denied making phone calls to anyone, saying that for four days before the meeting he was too busy working at his job with an ambulance service to pay attention to school board business. “So feel free, we can pull my phone records,” Kiser said. “I would gladly let anybody look over them that wants to.”
Boggs said she had called Kiser and Board Member Terry Cornett.
“I had talked to (Kiser) a couple of days before that and I still have the text messages. I said, ‘Let’s look at these things you think we might be able to do without and might not,” said Boggs. “And I had talked to Terry after that and I told him let’s look at these things. See what we can do. And that was the series of telephone conversations.”
Boggs said four or five days elapsed between the time she talked to Kiser and when she talked to Cornett.
“It wasn’t like we were repeatedly calling,” said Boggs. “As a matter of fact we discussed Terry being under the floor working on his house more than anything. That was the telephone conversation.”
Boggs said board members did not take turns calling each other before the May 7 meeting.
“I attempted to call Will once and left a message on his answering machine,” said Boggs. “It wasn’t as if we had a board meeting over the phone.”
Kiser said as for having a series of phone conversations, he didn’t.
“I think during that fourday period I called (Boggs) once,” he said.
“You might have texted me once or twice,” answered Boggs.
“I didn’t call Doc, Will or Terry at all,” added Kiser.
Cornett said it has been months since he has spoken to Kiser outside of board meetings and that he had not partaken in a series of telephone conversations with other board members.
Smith said he wasn’t at the May 7 special meeting, which is the only meeting he can remember having missed in the 20 years he has served on the board.
“I can’t speak to all of that,” said Smith.
Smith said he read in The Mountain Eagle that the board voted 2-1 to abolish the assistant superintendent’s position and immediately called the district pupil personnel director to say that the motion did not pass.
“The 2-1 vote, you are absolutely right, it does take three members,” said Smith.
Cornett asked Hall if the board is allowed to change the order of the items listed on an agenda for a special meeting. Hall answered that as long as nothing is added to the agenda, the order of business can be changed.
Hall also asked Kiser if “just out of an abundance of caution” Kiser had contacted the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General to make sure Kiser is reading the proper language before the board makes one of its regular journeys into executive session. Kiser said he had.
“And with that, my understanding from the board and you, it’s been the same language that has been read to go into executive session for the last 15 years,” Kiser said.
Hall told the board that there are certain penalties involved if it can be determined there is an actual violation on the Open Meetings Act.
“And because of the possibility of litigation and if the newspaper is not satisfied with our response they have the right to take it to the Attorney General’s Office,” said Hall. “I think I would rather discuss the ramifications in executive session.”
Kiser then announced that under authorization of KRS 61.810, a motion was needed to go into closed session “for the purpose discussing personnel and property, and we need to add to that litigation.” The board went into the private session at 5:01 p.m. and came out at 5:35 p.m.
Hall said that the board doesn’t tape its closed-door meetings.
“And in this particular meeting individuals were discussed and my recommendation to the board is that we do not reveal the names of those individuals because of their privacy act,” said Hall. “So personnel in general was not discussed, but individuals were and the result of that is because of the budget crunch that we are all facing here.”