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PCM school board chastises former member for outbursts

Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 11:10 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 19, 2013 11:12 a.m. CDT

PCM Board of Education members categorized a former board member’s outburst during a meeting as disrespectful at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

Harold VanWyk, a PCM school board member from 1990 to 2000, asked the board which budget would be affected by the proposed $128,306.11 for new computers and wireless technology for the district. The district only passed a portion of the proposed technology plan, which was $48,716 for new MacBook Pros.

VanWyk also spoke during the constituents correspondence portion of the meeting about his concerns with the overuse of take-home computers by the district. He also expressed concerns about the Revenue Purpose Statement that failed several weeks ago and said that the language of the reappropriation that was turned down by voters gave the district too much leeway with the funds.

Prior to allowing those public comments, Board President Jean Jennings directed all inquires to Superintendent Jane Babcock.

“As a reminder, the board meeting is not a public meeting. It is a meeting held in public,” Jennings said. “If you have questions that you’d like to ask regarding anything that is discussed at the board meeting, we would direct to Ms. Babcock for the answering of those questions.”

After the meeting, Babcock declined to comment or answer any questions regarding the meeting, particularly pertaining to the tabling of the appointment of legal counsel. The school district and Babcock currently are facing a civil suit regarding the alleged sexual harassment of a seventh-grader by a ninth-grader and the alleged cover-up by Babcock and Board Member Michael Chipps.

During the discussion of the technology spending, Jennings asked if the money would come out of the general budget. Board member Jill Witt said that it would come out of a budget that is specified for infrastructure.

VanWyk then asked the board from the gallery, without raising his hand, if computers are considered infrastructure. When his question went unanswered, he turned to other people in the gallery and a whispering discussion broke out, which angered Chipps.

“Can you give us some respect please back here,” Chipps said. “Just give us some respect. We’re trying to talk.”

VanWyk then apologized and pointed out that the board meeting “is a meeting in the public.” All members of the board and Babcock then shouted at VanWyk, reiterating that the board meeting is merely held in the public.

“Just give us a little respect,” Chipps said. “We gave you respect when you talked.”

Later on during the discussion, VanWyk raised his hand to ask the board a clarifying question about whether or not the computers were considered infrastructure. Jennings denied his question and said that the board was not entertaining public discussion.

VanWyk said that the denial of his question, or any public question or comment, follows procedure but he said it’s disrespectful.

“When I was on the board, there was a time when people held their hand up and the president recognized them. They’d let them say what they want to say,” VanWyk said. “They don’t necessarily have to act on it or do anything, but for them to snap at the public like that is a little bit, well, they must have a hairy trigger up there.”

VanWyk also expressed concerns during open discussion at the beginning of the meeting that the board should post agendas and other information regarding board meetings outside on the door to the high school. Thursday’s meeting was a rescheduled meeting that was supposed to be held Monday night, but was postponed due to a regional game for PCM softball.

VanWyk said that he came to school and didn’t find a notice posted anywhere around the school or the library that the board meeting had been postponed. According to Iowa Code Chapter 21.4 Section 1, governing bodies are required to notify the public via the media and bulletin boards at least 24 hours in advance of any meeting. Such bulletins are to be placed “at the principle office of the governing body or, if no office exists, at the building where meeting will be held.”

At the conclusion of the regular meeting, the board held a closed session to evaluate Babcock’s performance. Board members indicated this was a routine annual review.

Staff writer Dave Hon may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at dhon@newtondailynews.com.

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