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"This Isn't Russia"

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Former Lake Pend Oreille HS Principal asks to be heard

The phone call came out of the blue. "Trish?," the voice asked. "This is Patty Patzer calling." Patzer was formerly the principal of Lake Pend Oreille High School, the high school my oldest daughter graduated from. Just a few short weeks ago, however, the school district she works for announced that Patzer was being transferred - to a brand new, day-treatment program in the central office, which she was to head up.

When Tom Scott, chairman of the board of trustees for Lake Pend Oreille School District told me of the transfer during a telephone call, I told him I opposed it. I left that same message for Steve Battenschlag, chief administrator of the district. I indicated my opinion in discussions with my representative to the board, Kathy Chambers. And when Patty decided to request a hearing before the board, asking them to reconsider her transfer, I provided her with the home addresses of each board trustee. 

In three articles written about the school district since that time for The River Journal, however, Patzer's name was mentioned only in passing, as one of five administrators who had requested board hearings.

Even that much, however, appears to be too much. "I was called into a meeting with Steve (Battenschlag) and (Superintendent) Mark Berryhill," Patty said on the phone. "It was suggested that I get you, Doris Matz and Steve Johnson to back off."

Matz and Johnson have also opposed this transfer.

That statement, according to Battenschlag, Berryhill and Scott, is "not true." They were responding to a complaint made by Doris Matz at the annual meeting this week regarding the conversation.

"The best thing we can say is (we) met with Patty trying to address questions that need to be answered," said Battenschlag. As for an instruction to "back off," he stated, "I feel I leaned over backward to make sure that wasn't the case."

What Battenschlag wouldn't, or couldn't, explain was what the discussion was about. "That's a personnel issue," he said, and refused to clarify why myself, Matz and Johnson were even discussed.

Scott offered his own explanation for what was said, even though he wasn't present at the meeting, stating that he had met with Battenschlag and Berryhill beforehand to determine what instruction would be given to Patzer regarding the people opposing her transfer. "We offered Patty the opportunity to avoid this (coming out in public," he said.

Patzer's request for a board hearing was denied when her salary deduction was reversed - Tom Scott stating that employees are only entitled to a hearing when salaries are reduced. For Patzer, however, "This was never about money.

"There has been a cloud of disgrace (around my name)," she said to the board. "I have the right to face my accusers (and respond to them)." Patzer repeated her request for the opportunity to do just that, adding, "This is not Russia. This is the United States of America."

Later in the board's meeting, when asked whether there would be further hearings (regarding the transfers), chairman Scott stated there would not be, adding that there had been no requests  for the same.

For Steve Johnson there are many issues of concern, but the one he's focused primarily on revolves around a district process used to place non-certified personnel in a certified position. That process is called a Letter of Authorization, and it's a process he believes was misused by the district last year to fund an administrative intern position.

In that document, the district affirmed a series of statements that Johnson says are simply not true.

The LOA states (and requires) the district made "a sincere and reasonable effort" to find a fully certified administrator to fill the position. Johnson says, "They never posted the position, never did a search, nor even told the building principal of the vacancy according to documents received from the Clerk of the Board."

It states, "it is reasonably impossible to provide for the instruction pertinent to this request in any other manner." The truth, Johnson says, is "There are two fully certified and experienced people on staff at the school, and there are many more working within our district."

Further, the LOA states this "has been discussed and approved in a regularly convened meeting…" Again, Johnson points out that the LOA was included in the consent agenda of the board meeting (with no discussion) and that it's likely many board members had no knowledge of what was being done.

Allison Westfall, public information officer for the State Department of Education, says this is not an issue the Department will investigate as a code of ethics violation, as they only have authority over certificated personnel - those people licensed by the state to practice in the education field. "The Professional Standards Commission only has jurisdiction and authority over educators with certificates," she wrote. The LOA was signed by Tom Scott, who holds no such license, and Superintendent Steve Deal, who has since left the state. A supporting letter to the LOA was written by Battenschlag, who also is not licensed by the state.

According to the Negotiated Agreement, the contract made between the district and the teacher's union, the district agrees to post "a notice of all vacancies, including vacancies in promotional positions as they occur or as new positions are approved."

Based on these statements, Johnson asked the board to review their uses of the LOA procedure, a request which chairman Scott stated would be discussed in executive session (not in public) because it was a "personnel issue." Jan Fitzgerald, a staff member in the district, stated it is "not a personnel issue, it's a procedural issue." Scott declined to place the procedural issue on the board's agenda for discussion.

In other board business, Vicki Pfeiffer was inducted as a board trustee, replacing Keith Contor. Scott, who ran unopposed in the last election, was also re-appointed to the board. Scott was re-elected chairman, and trustee Kathy Chambers was elected as vice -chairman. Marvene Shaw was named Clerk of the Board, while Steve Battenschlag was named Treasurer of the Board and Chief Administrator.

Allison Gilmore, representing the Lake Pend Oreille Education Association, asked the board to perform an evaluation of the current administrative structure (with a Chief Administrator at the top of the chain of command). There was no response.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

education, Lake Pend Oreille School District, administration, Patty Smith

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