District 46 board faces criticism from former members

PRAIRIE GROVE – New Prairie Grove District 46 board members faced feverish resistance a mere week into their tenure Tuesday from former members, who decried numerous measures that would undo past decisions.

Former board members such as Vicki Marconi, Laura Domoto and others argued numerous measures proposed by a new board majority elected in April threatened the education of the elementary and middle schoolers who attend District 46.

“This agenda is disrespectful to everyone in this district,” Marconi said. “I thought the new board was supposed to be pushing the district in a positive way. This agenda clearly says that we are going backward.”

Marconi, Domoto and former members Charlotte Kremer and Michelle Yantis took issue with numerous items on the meeting agenda, including proposals that would possibly revert the old board’s decisions on an in-school visitation policy and a master course schedule designed to get the district in line with the state’s common core curriculum standards.

Another proposal would have terminated the law firm that helped with last year’s teacher negotiations that led to a one-day strike.

The former members were a part of an hourlong public comment session that set the tone for a contentious meeting that sometimes pitted district administrators against newly elected board members, who also had to answer criticisms from board incumbents about the agenda and whether it violated the Open Meetings Act.

The seven-person board features a new-look majority after April’s election where voters ousted Domoto, Marconi, Kremer and Yantis. The majority, including President Margaret Ponga and members Rick Salvo, John Bowman and Laura Barker, were sworn in May 7.

The meeting featured five proposals that drew the ire of former members and incumbents.

At press time Tuesday, the new board still was debating the first issue, which involved the re-examination of a master course schedule the old board approved in early April.

The schedule changed course offerings and class schedules and cut sections to music and art to accommodate declining student enrollment and the looming common core deadline mandated by the state, administrators said.

But the changes still irked some teachers, staff and parents and required the new board to re-examine whether modifications were needed, Ponga said.

“I think the master schedule was pushed through,” Ponga said. “I think it was approved late, and I think ultimately we are going to have to be accountable for it going forward.”

Superintendent Lynette Zimmer pleaded with the board to hold off any possible changes to the master schedule until next year.

She argued that changes to the schedule so late in the school year could have resulted in layoffs and forced administrators to delay the opening of school in August.

“These are unprecedented changes that we have never had to deal with before because of all the complexities that are happening with the state ... This is a paradigm shift,” Zimmer said.

Incumbent member Khushali Shah questioned Ponga further, arguing that any possible board changes to the schedule would defy the expertise of full-time administrators with the background to study such issues.

“They are the credible people who should be telling us how to get this done. We should be supporting them on this” Shah said. “I’m having a big issue with us spinning our wheels on this ... If there are teachers that have problems, they should come and speak toward the board.”

Shah’s comments midway through the debate were directed to Ponga, who struggled to answer Shah.

“I don’t know why the teachers aren’t coming forward to speak their minds,” Ponga said.

Shah quickly retorted: “End of discussion.”

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