Criticism heats up as new board takes seats
By Cheryl Allen
Topping the agenda Monday night was acceptance of election results and retirement of the old board at …
Topping the agenda Monday night was acceptance of election results and retirement of the old board at Mid-Prairie’s regular Board of Education meeting. Superintendent Brian Stone presented plaques to retiring board member Marianne Schlabach and retiring board president Jeremy Pickard. Schlabach served the board for eight years, and Pickard for 14 years.
“Thank you for all of your time and dedication to making Mid-Prairie better,” Stone said. “Your efforts are greatly appreciated.”
The new board was then called to order; re-elected members Mary Allred and Denise Chittick took their oaths of office, as did new member Ryan Schlabaugh. New member Randy Billups was sworn in on Nov. 22; he was absent from the Nov. 27 meeting due to a wrestling conflict.
Although the board was divided when it came to choosing a new president, they ultimately appointed Jake Snider to the position; Gabrielle Frederick will continue as Vice President, and Jeff Swartzentruber will continue as Secretary/Treasurer.
During the public forum, four speakers addressed the board, three of them with comments pertaining to special education. The first was Abby Sojka, a parent with two open-enrolled students in the district, one of whom is in special education.
She previously addressed the board at their Nov. 13 meeting on behalf of herself and others with a list of grievances, prefacing her remarks by saying, “Over the last year and a half, there have been a lot of special ed concerns and issues that have come to light,” and that “I spent many hours meeting with Brian Stone trying to address all the issues that I’d like to talk about. I’m still not confident that these situations and the people involved have been held accountable to a level that they should have been, or maybe not even held accountable at all. The board superintendent and administration cannot continue to hold staff and teachers accountable if they won’t hold themselves or each other accountable.”
Sojka then outlined complaints ranging from special education students moving into the Mid-Prairie district in November being asked to delay beginning classes for weeks so that paraeducators could be hired for them; to a special education teacher who was initially placed on administrative leave without pay without board approval; to issues over who is responsible for helping students into clean clothes when the situation calls for it.
On Monday night, Sojka said, “I’ve been told recently that apparently the staff is being told that I provided no evidence of the items I talked about at the last meeting. That statement is completely false.”
She then proceeded to provide the board secretary with “copies of evidence” including what she said were photos, a letter from the Iowa Board of Education, and emails from administrators. “I now want those to be officially public record,” she said.
Following Sojka was Andy McCall, father of Middle School special education teacher Kristene Evans, who resigned from her position during the 2022-2023 school year.
“What I’d like to speak about is an issue that Abby did bring up too,” he said. “At the beginning of last year, Kristene was asked to do Strat II teaching. She does not have that on her license. She brought that to Amy’s [Shalla, ALC Principal] attention and Mr. Stone’s attention that she does not have that endorsement. She thought she’d be in jeopardy of losing her license.”
McCall continued, saying that the school found a workaround, leaving Evans “in over her head” and with “no support from staff or administration.” Evans eventually resigned, but the situation with the school district has since escalated to a legal one.
Former board president Jeremy Pickard, now a member of the public, also commented on special education at Mid-Prairie.
“I do have a family member who does receive services for an IEP [Individualized Educational Plan]. I’m pretty proud of that student, and I’m pretty proud of the people who work for them,” he said.
He acknowledged that the district faces challenges in hiring staff, “especially when it comes to folks with IEPs and disabilities.” He then urged, “I hope that the board considers the folks who live in-district who vote in-district to pay taxes in-district, and make sure that their services are not compromised or hindered on behalf of people who do not live within our own district.”
“I understand that things aren’t perfect, but from what I’ve seen and the experience that I’ve had with my student, we’ve been pleasantly pleased and also watched a significant amount of growth from my student over the course of the last several years,” Pickard concluded.
In the business meeting portion of the evening, the board passed a resolution requesting Additional Allowable Growth in the amount of $77,708 for open enrollment out, and for $6,795 for ELL [English Language Learners] beyond five years. The board passed a resolution on this item in October, but the resolution had to be amended with new figures.
Gabrielle Frederick was appointed representative to the Johnson County Conference Board. Jed Seward was appointed to the Washington County Conference Board. Denise Chittick and Mary Allred were appointed to be the board’s Interest Based Bargaining School Board Representatives.
Following the business meeting, the board entered closed session to conduct a semi-annual superintendent evaluation.
The Mid-Prairie Board of Education will next meet on Monday, Dec. 11 at 6:15 p.m. at the Central Office.