Danville school board members asked to respond to complaints; one does

Published 8:51 am Thursday, March 1, 2018

Multiple Danville Board of Education members declined to respond to or could not be reached for comment concerning a letter sent by community members on Monday. 

Board Chair Paige Matthews and board member Susan Matherly both declined to comment, referring a reporter instead to board attorney Vince Pennington. Calls and emails to Pennington on Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.

Board members Lori Finke and Troy McCowan could not be reached for comment.

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The letter, sent from a group of over 100 “concerned” staff and community members, called for the voiding of action taken at a Feb. 19 board meeting, when the board voted 3-2 to vacate the position of superintendent of Danville Schools. Mathews, Matherly and Lori Finke voted in favor of not renewing Dr. Keith Look’s contract; board members Steve Becker and Troy McCowan voted against the motion.

Among numerous complaints, the letter alleges open meetings violations by the board and claims that board actions were taken in “bad faith and a violation of public trust.”

A complete article about the meeting was published in Wednesday’s edition of The Advocate-Messenger and is available on www.amnews.com.

Steve Becker was the only board member who commented on the record about the letter. He said Tuesday night he felt it was “very well thought out.”

“They have a loud voice, a convincing voice, and one that truly is wanting to make the Danville Schools the best they can be.”

Becker shared, as he had in previous meetings, that he had been told by a district teacher that there was no confidence in the board.

“When I get told by a teacher that there’s not confidence in our board, that means we, as a board, need to fix that problem,” he said. “I’m not sure what that’s going to entail. It’s not an issue of, ‘We’re going to talk about it and we’re going to fix this.’ It’s an issue of meaning it, that we value what folks have to say. I think that’s important.

“I think our staff — teachers, administrators, classified — are feeling, they just want listened to.”

He said he hears them.

“I feel their pain, I feel their frustration,” Becker said. “I had a conversation with a principal today and his major concern was, ‘Are we going to get the applicant, that person who’s going to be able to come into this district and take charge of the change?’”

Becker said the other concern of the principal was whether a new superintendent will be able to bring healing to the district’s nearly 300 employees, “90 percent of whom are hurting right now.”

“My answer was: I believe we have a real good shot at finding that right person,” he said.

Becker said there are “difficult days” ahead of the board, because a superintendent needs to be hired, but “I’m not real sure that this board knows what it wants in a superintendent.”

“That’s something we’re going to have to get through — this issue of what’s taken place — and get our acts together as a board. Big decisions have to be made,” he said. “As my mother would say, ‘You’ve got to put your big boy pants on and go to work.’”

Becker said he could see from the letter that the decision made regarding vacating the superintendent’s position was not popular with the writers of the letter. He said he doesn’t think it would be impossible that Look’s contract could still be extended.

“I would venture to say it could be rescinded … If the board were to see it as an opportunity to extend his contract, we could do that, just depending on the mood of the board.”

He said it was important to see that, through all of this, people care about the district.

“It’s not all pleasant, but it does tell me that we have so many folks that care. That means they care about the kids,” Becker said. “I’m hoping we can build on that and come to some general consensus. Let’s get back to taking care of our kids in Danville.”