After the Benton School Board recently received a grievance filed by Benton High School Principal Curt Barger, board members gathered for a special meeting Friday afternoon.
According to a statement from the Benton School District, "Barger advanced his grievance through the multiple levels until it reached the school board for final resolution."
According to Board President Dio Vannucci, the purpose of the meeting was to determine whether the board would discuss the grievance in a hearing or not. If the board decided that the issue was grievable, a hearing would be held at the next board meeting.
According to a statement from the Benton School District, "there was no majority vote by the school board to hear the grievance, as required by policy, and therefore the decision of the Superintendent stands, per district policy."
Many in the crowded room expressed their disapproval.
According to the district’s policy, a grievance is defined as “a claim or concern related to the interpretation, application, or claimed violation of the personnel policies, including salary schedules, federal or state laws and regulations, or terms or conditions of employment, raised by an individual employee of this school district.”
The grievance was never read, but personnel evaluations and employee improvement plans were discussed several times.
The district’s policy does not have any mention about if a personal evaluation should or should not be included in a grievance.
Vannucci began the meeting by informing the board and attendees why he felt the board should leave the grievance in the hands of district administration and also change the district’s policy to exclude personal evaluations from being a reason for filing a grievance.
While researching the matter, Vannucci said, he reached out to Kristen Garner, staff attorney for the Arkansas School Boards Association.
According to Vannucci, Garner “was stunned that our policy already didn’t already specific exclude evaluations and improvement plans as not being grievable as the model ASBA policy reads.”
“She was very stern in her warning that we as a board are on a very slippery slope if we find a situation like this grievable. Effectively we would be stripping our administrators including building administrators of any power for holding their staff accountable in their jobs…this would put far too much power in the hands of the school board,” Vannucci said adding that the board has a more of an oversight role.
He further added that by hearing the grievance he believes this could lead to the board facing litigation and administrators breaking the law.
“It is the board’s role to provide the vision for the district–the where we are headed. It is the administration’s role and duty to come up with and execute the how,” Vannucci added.
After a motion was made to not hear the grievance, Board Members Holley Little, Jonathan Woolbright and Paul Childress voted against it. Board Member Jarrod Hambric was not in attendance.
Childress said he personally didn’t believe the board should hear the grievance, but pointed to the district’s current policy before voting against the motion.
With Vannucci voting in favor, the vote was a tie and failed.
Unsure how to handle a tie, the board took a recess to confer with legal counsel.
After returning to the open session, another motion was made to hear the grievance which also led to a tie. According to Vannucci, the board was "deadlocked."
There was no mention during the meeting of Superintendent Mike Skelton’s response to the grievance.