AUGUSTA — A former school board member who recently resigned says she did so due to a hostile environment where board members who asked questions about proposals and policies favored by administrators and a core group of board members were treated with hostility and anger.

Laura Hamilton, whose resignation goes to the rest of the school board at its Wednesday meeting, said she could no longer endure the amount of emotion and drama that seemed to greet legitimate questions from her and others about policies and proposals.

“I can’t continue working in such a hostile environment,” Hamilton said of why she submitted her resignation as an at-large board member in late September. The resignation was effective immediately. “My assessment is the majority of the board is running under some kind of subjective value system, while other members of the board are running on objective analysis. And the objective analysis part is viewed as divisive. It seems to be if you don’t agree with the board chair — and this applies to the former board chair as well — and the superintendent, then you’re not a popular person and you are blocked. And I’m a questioner by nature. I ask questions.”

Kim Martin, board chairwoman, said the board does not create a hostile environment and questions and discussions are welcome.

“I do not believe it is a hostile environment,” she said Monday. “As board chair(woman) I’ve always tried to encourage discussion. I can’t control what personal perception is. I’m sorry that’s the perception she had. But anybody can come to a board meeting and be part of the process and see that is not the case.”

Hamilton was elected to the school board in 2012 and reelected in 2015, taking the oath of office in January of this year. More than two years remain on her term.

Martin said she has notified the city clerk the position is vacant, and it will be up to city officials to determine when to hold an election to fill the remaining time on the term.

Hamilton said she and fellow at-large board members Tom Connors and Edward Hastings have faced criticism from Martin and others for asking questions about administration proposals.

“What they want — and what the administration wants — is to only focus on what is positive,” Hamilton said. “I don’t really think that’s conducive to critical thinking or problem solving with a public educational system that needs to have critical assessment. I’ve been doing this three-and-half years. And this organization doesn’t run like any other kind of organization I’ve worked with. It has been very hard. I haven’t enjoyed it.”

Hamilton said Martin encouraged her to seek reelection last year, and Hamilton, in turn, supported Martin’s bid to become chairwoman of the board. She said she now regrets agreeing to return to the board for another term.

Hamilton said a discussion at an August board meeting regarding proposed changes to the board’s media policy was the final incident which prompted her to resign. She said board members were talking about miscommunication at a prior meeting on that topic and Martin responded emotionally and angrily to that miscommunication.

“It was just a misunderstanding. I was astounded by the level of emotion and drama,” Hamilton said. “If half the room heard one thing and the other half heard something else, then obviously we need to discuss it. It doesn’t mean becoming angry and threatening and shutting people down. And that’s happening all the time.”

She said some board members started treating her and Connors with hostility earlier this year after they expressed support for parents who criticized parts of the school system’s student discipline policy. She said since then they’ve been treated as if they were enemies of the system.

Martin said questions and discussion are welcome at board meetings.

In addition to getting Hamilton’s resignation Wednesday, board members are also scheduled to consider approving their goals for the year. Their four goals for the year include a “board development” goal which states, “By June 2017, the Augusta School Board will be a cohesive team committed to developing and refining Boardsmanship skills as measured by a board self-evaluation survey.” Action to achieve that goal would include the board taking part in multiple training sessions that will focus on “group dynamics communication and negotiation strategies, and trust.”

Martin said that goal was not specifically meant to address any current conflict on the board, though she acknowledged board members don’t and won’t always agree on issues.

“There are always going to be moments on a board when people with different backgrounds and reasons for being there don’t agree,” Martin said. “Getting past those moments is what we need to do. As a board, our goal is to be able to come together and work together to make the best decisions for our students. Going forward, we want to make sure we’re a group that can work well together.”

The proposed goals include an “overarching goal” stating that “the Augusta School Board is committed to continuously creating and improving conditions that support all learners succeeding; building on strengths and addressing challenges to meet the needs of each and every student.” More specific board goals include analyzing and making recommendations regarding the current neighborhood school concept and forming a plan for communicating with the public.

In an unrelated item, board members are scheduled to hear an annual update on homeless students in Augusta, some of the challenges they face, and what support is in place to help them.

According to a report by Theresa Violette, Title 1 director who serves as Augusta’s liaison on homeless students, Augusta has 80 students who meet the federal definition of being homeless this school year, down from 101 last school year. Those numbers include students living in shelters, staying in hotels, or staying in the homes of extended family members or friends.

Board members meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

They are also scheduled to:

• consider nominations of staff to extracurricular positions at Cony;

• consider staff and student group travel requests;

• consider policy additions, updates and deletions;

• consider approving the Student at Risk Plan as part of the Comprehensive Education Plan;

• consider approving the proposed Capital Area Technical Center cooperative agreement for next year.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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