Letter to the Editor from Crook County School District Board of Trustees – July 26

To Citizens of Crook County

On June 18, 2012, during the regular monthly school board meeting held in Hulett, a group of citizens, led by Keith Haiar, brought forth allegations of misuse of property and employee time by Superintendent Lon Streib.

The accusers claimed that on May 23, 2012 Mr. Streib had illegally enlisted the help of two school district employees who were on the district time-clock and that he had also illegally used district property to build a concrete slab at his private home.

Haiar was advised by CCSD attorney Mark Hughes that these were criminal allegations and that this would be a matter for law enforcement officials to investigate. Nonetheless, due to the serious nature of Mr. Haiar’s accusations, the Board agreed to form a subcommittee comprised of Chairman McInerney, Trustee Casey and Trustee Rathbun and report back to the full board in executive session on July 18, 2012 at the regular school board meeting.

After consulting with the school district attorney to ask questions and clarify their role, the subcommittee met and agreed to the criteria they would use, which individuals they needed to interview and what specific questions they should ask. Copies of time cards, along with the signed interview questions and answers have been shared with the board.

The time cards of the district employees showed that neither of the two gentlemen were on the clock during the time of the alleged incident. Furthermore both employees indicated that they had volunteered to help Mr. Streib on their own and had done so of their own free will.

Mr. Peterson indicated that the majority of the concrete tools he uses for work throughout the district belong to him. He said that he has his own bull float and although the district owns one too, they look enough alike and he is not sure which bull float he was using on that day.

Mr. Streib has offered to reimburse the district for the rental cost of a bull float.

Both gentlemen drove their own vehicles to Mr. Streib’s house.

The subcommittee checked with accounts payable to see if any district funds had been used to deliver materials to the Streib home. A signed copy of the question and answer from Accounts Payable have been shared with the board. No district funds were used.

It is the Board’s responsibility to write policy and hire a superintendent to administer those policies. The subcommittee reviewed the district’s policy manual and found there are no policies to cover the misuse of school district property and employee time. These are criminal offenses and are therefore covered by state laws and statutes.

Following the subcommittee’s investigation, Chairman McInerney met with Sheriff Steve Stahla to discuss this incident as it was understood that his department had also been asked to look into the matter. Sheriff Stahla told Chairman McInerney that he had done a thorough investigation and that his department found no evidence of any criminal activity associated with the accusations made against Mr. Streib.

(The above section was read aloud at the July 18, 2012, school board meeting at Moorcroft High School.)

For several weeks our community has been unsettled by resignations, criminal allegations and emotional pleas concerning certain district employees, as well as, the wellbeing of our students. The Board of Trustees takes these matters very seriously and has been working diligently to answer questions, resolve issues and bring reassurance to the staff and public.

The Crook County School District Board of Trustees is made up of nine members elected from three (3) trustee areas and from each trustee area established, there are two (2) elected members. In addition, three (3) members are elected at large from the entire Crook County School District #1 area.

Trustee members are fellow citizens who are elected by the people of the district to “act as the general agent of the state in carrying out the will of the people of the district in matters of public education.”

Naturally, as fellow members of the community, it should be the desire of board members to carry out the will of the people who elect them. It is possible, however, for the public to elect individual board members who are concerned with their own personal agendas, or who may get elected to carry out the will of certain special interest groups. Nonetheless, with a large nine (9) member board, elected equally from all areas of the school district, citizens can have the greatest confidence that their voices are being heard and the will of the people is being carried out.

Throughout the year, citizen school board members donate their time to help the superintendent and administrators govern the district and ensure that the needs of the students and staff are being met. As issues develop, information is gathered and examined so that trustees can make informed decisions

based on factual evidence represented from all sides of a debate.

Due to privacy laws and other legal ramifications board members cannot speak publicly about individual personnel issues. Executive sessions allow for open discussions in a private setting so that members can talk about the issue and an individual’s privacy rights are not compromised. This does not mean that board members do not listen to the concerns of the public and cannot gather information outside of executive sessions. Nor does it mean that because executive sessions are private, that board members are somehow taking sides with an individual district employee.

The school board will consider all relevant information (some that may not be public) and is required to do so within the limitations of state law and district policy. The school board will not act on false, misleading or incomplete information, nor should trustees make decisions based on gossip, rumor and innuendo.

Members of the public who are “motivated by a sincere desire to equip the schools of the district to do their tasks more effectively” are urged to bring forth their complaints and grievances so that they may be resolved by the proper administrative channels first and then brought to the board if necessary.

As fellow citizens (friends, neighbors, family members and coworkers) board members care deeply about the safety, wellbeing and learning environment of our students and staff. Inappropriate conduct by district employees toward any student, or staff member, will not be tolerated.

Accusations of misconduct should be presented, “Whenever possible, as close to their origin as possible.” Accusers should provide administration (or the Board) with factual evidence so that they can act quickly and fairly according to district policy and state law.

In the United States our legal system provides the accused with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Employees of Crook County School District deserve this consideration too. Accusations against any individual should be grounded in factual evidence. Anyone accused of misconduct, of any kind, should be treated fairly and given a full opportunity to defend themselves. Anyone found guilty of misconduct will be dealt with by the administration, or the board, according to our district’s policy and state law.

The recent resignations of four Sundance based employees came as a surprise to the board and administration. All four employees were in good standing and had been offered contracts for next year. Rumors pertaining to the various reasons for these resignations have swirled around our community.

Policy GBM – Staff Complaints and Grievances allows for all Crook County School District staff personnel the right to resolve any complaint or grievance “at the lowest possible level,” and finally “if the matter cannot be resolved with the superintendent, it may be referred to the Board.”

Recommendation GBM-R Staff Complaints and Grievances clearly describes the procedure by which a staff member can resolve grievances all the way up to the level of the Board if necessary. Furthermore GBM-R states:

“No reprisals will be taken by the Board or administration against any grievant or any other participant in the procedure.”

None of the employees who recently resigned chose to resolve their complaints or grievances at the level of the board.

Accusations about alleged misconduct by district employees have been presented to the administration and the board. These are personnel issues and will not be shared by administration, or the board, with the public. If the board or administration chooses to take action, that action will be kept private between the administration and the employee; or the board and the administration.

Rumors of corruption, nepotism and unethical behavior about Superintendent Lon Streib and his family have spread throughout the community. There have been a litany of accusations, some too ridiculous to mention, however we believe it’s important for the community to know the facts so they can make their own determination.

None of the accusations presented to the board about corruption have been proven. Furthermore, checks and balances (local, state and independent) throughout the system provide the district and the community the assurance that district funds are being appropriately distributed. If any employee or citizen has verifiable proof that district funds are (or have been) misappropriated in any way it is their moral, ethical and possibly legal obligation to bring forth that proof.

Accusations of nepotism have been presented to the board. At the May school board meeting questions were asked by audience members and the board of Mark Hughes (CCSD attorney) and Sam Neiman (Director Special Education) about nepotism associated with Mr. Streib and his family. It was explained by Mr. Hughes that there is a precedent for this District to hire Superintendent spouses and that in our small community it is common for spouses and other relatives to be working within the same school district. In fact, three board members have spouses working for the district and nearly every board member has at least one relative working within the district. The school board is representative of our community.

Mrs. Neiman went on to describe Mrs. Streib as being extremely well qualified for her position; that she is very good at what she does and the District is fortunate to have her services.

Allegations of corruption relating to Mrs. Streib’s employment and the contract she had with the district before her full-time employment were also addressed by Mrs. Neiman. She explained to the audience that the funding of Mrs. Streib’s contract was well within the normal range for contract services of that nature.

Previous allegations of corruption and nepotism have been discussed by the board in executive sessions. The board has and will continue to look into any credible concerns pertaining to our superintendent.

Lastly, Mr. Streib has been publicly accused of being “unethical” and “immoral.” If any employee, or patron, has any evidence of illegality, policy violation, unethical behavior or immorality by Mr. Streib we urge you to bring it to the board. If not, we urge the public to stop the gossip, rumor and misinformation about Mr. Streib and his family. Personal attacks in public about our superintendent’s honesty, character and integrity are defamatory, wrong and uncivil for the citizens of Crook County. It hurts our school district.

This is an outstanding school district. The superintendent, administrators, teachers and staff have much to be proud of. So does our community. We are not perfect and recognize the need for improvement, but Crook County School District is one of the best educational institutions in the State of Wyoming.

Even with the dynamic challenges that come with having one school district covering a vast area in three different towns; different demographics and various school sizes, our standardized test scores have ranked us as one of the highest achieving districts in the state. We currently score in the top 10% of all 48 school districts and have a graduation rate of 96%, but we still think we can do better. The board has challenged the staff and administration to be #1.

The district has developed a thorough “Body of Evidence.” This tool helps teachers, administration and the school board make assessments, develop strategies and make critical decisions for individual students, teachers and classes at all grade levels and in every school, before it’s too late.

We consistently balance the budget and have been able to maintain 3.5 million cash reserve. Financially, we have always been conservative, but we still have been able to provide excellent pay plans, employee benefits and outstanding educational opportunities for our kids.

Over the past few years we have vastly improved the districts infrastructure and thus the quality of life in the schools in all three communities. We have worked on new school building projects and have also worked with individual communities on their own building projects to improve their towns.

We built a state-of-the-art athletic complex in Moorcroft and just received approval and funding to build a K-8 building in Moorcroft. When completed that building will be one of the finest learning centers in the entire region.

The board and administration are making huge strides to advance the level of education for our students and staff to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Experts agree that with the advancements in technology and our ever changing world, schools should adapt teaching techniques for the learning needs of today’s students. Jobs are constantly changing and employers are seeking critical thinkers and problem solvers. We need to prepare our students to solve problems that haven’t happened, for jobs that don’t exist yet.

In April school board members met with administrators to write our strategic plan. Board members and administration collaborated to write our “Mission” “Vision” and “Goals” for this year.

Our Mission says:

“Our purpose is to create and sustain learning communities which prepare each student to morally and ethically live, work, and learn successfully in the 21st century.”

Our Vision says:

“We will be known for academic excellence and preparing students to lead in the            21st century.”

This is an exciting time in education and an uncertain time for all of us. Change is scary, but if we aren’t proactive and don’t get out in front of it, we (our kids) are going to get run over.

Finally, with the ever growing state of uncertainty with our economy, national politics and international peace, it’s understandable that people are generally frustrated and angry.

Your school board members are not a bunch of obscure, untouchable politicians. They are your neighbors, friends and family. Making personal attacks, acting on misinformation, spreading gossip and rumors and isolating trustees and their families does not advance your cause; it hurts them personally. It doesn’t help our schools it kills our community.

Trustees willingly donate their time every month researching issues, fielding questions and attending meetings to help the schools and our kids. Being an active school board member takes a massive amount of time. We disagree as much as we agree. We laugh and fight and are always passionate about the issues. Ultimately we make the best decisions we can for the kids.

If citizens hope to get well meaning, qualified applicants to fill future board vacancies they need to tone down the rhetoric. Flamboyant editorials that use loaded language based on misinformation do not help to advance the debate; it makes a mockery of our system. Likewise, the quiet majority need to speak up. Allowing the “squeaky wheel” to control the discussion may ultimately get you what you don’t want.

Citizens should speak out, but they need to be informed. We are not yelling at some talking head on T.V. these are local issues that affect the lives of everyone, most importantly our kids. The board and administration want you involved. Come to meetings. Ask questions. Talk to board members. Talk to several of them. Get informed. Be civil.

Your board wants to do a good job. They are your family, friends and neighbors.

Help them.

In these uncertain times it is more important now than ever that these three small communities and this one large school district, band together to find common ground for the betterment of our schools and kids. We need to be good examples for our children so we can make good decisions together and secure a brighter future for the students, staff and the entire community of Crook County.

Crook County School District #1 Board of Trustees

By Todd McInerney, Chairman