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Politically Incorrect

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Poor me!

Linda Rondstat made an appearance at Lake Pend Oreille School District’s school board meeting last week and she was wailing away. “Poor, poor, poor, me. Poor, poor, pitiful me.” No, wait. That was Steve Battenschlag, in a masterful performance where he answered questions related to his job performance – the part where he spends money.

“Steve Battenschlag is through,” he said, and isn’t it cute how he always refers to himself in the third person. Through with what wasn’t clear, however, as the last I heard, he hadn’t tendered his resignation yet.

Come on, Sateve. You and I go back a little too far for these kinds of games. If those of us who question district actions are really nothing more than “muckrakers,” as board chairman Tom Scott has stated, then the board should be aware they’ve got a first-class muckraker themselves sitting in the catbird seat – how do you all think Steve Battenschlag got his job, anyway? Because he participated with the public and media who were questioning the actions of his predecessor as business manager – specifically, how money was being spent. At least in the previous case, the money in question was going to a project that directly benefited children – and the board was fully aware of, and voting on in public, where that money was going.

Is that the case today? You have to wonder. I was told that a district employee asked Steve B about his spending on a personal growth program for staff; asked how he was going to get the Board to approve the expenditures. Steve’s alleged response was, “Do you think I tell the Board everything?” That’s not an on-the-record quote, you’ll notice – the person wouldn’t allow me to use their name, which generally puts information into the “do not use” category as unconfirmed. But it's illustrative for those who wonder how informed the board is on how the district’s money is being spent. They approve the checks, but do they question what they were for? Was there ever a board meeting where this “personal growth” program was fully discussed and adopted by the board, and where a budget for it was set? Trustee Kathy Chambers asked one of the only intelligent questions about the credit card information – is there anyone who approves the money Steve spends? Steve said “Yes, the board does,” when they approve the checks. I think (I hope) that Kathy was looking for a little more – looking for the type of system we used to operate under, and the type of system other districts operate under – a board that’s fully informed of what’s going on in the school district they oversee.

Money is being spent freely on “perks” for central office staff, who unsurprisingly were cheerleaders for Steve B at the last board meeting. “Don’t be picking on him, he’s doing a great job,” is a paraphrase of what they said. One went so far as to say she’d, “Never seen controversy in the public like this.” I almost fell out of my chair, except I was standing. This is a long-term employee of the district – where was she when 2000 people showed up at Sandpoint High School and performed parodies of board members after it was suggested that athletic budgets be cut by 10%? Where was she when hundreds packed Southside Elementary school in 1993? I know she was present at those meetings, but maybe she can see controversy better now that she’s the highest paid person in her position in the entire state of Idaho.

The presentation at the board meeting was a masterful production, but one with a lot of holes. When trying to explain why his wife has a district credit card, when her boss does not, Steve talked about “liability.” Seems American Express will hold the person named on a business credit card liable for the charges if the business doesn’t pay, and good old Steve and Karen stepped into the breech to take on that responsibility on behalf of the district. Bull. There’s not a person out there with a business-issued credit card who didn’t see right through that explanation to the fallacy behind it. Try again, Steve.

Were the purchases at SkyMall and the $750 plane tickets legitimate purchases? Of course they were. That’s what Steve focused on in his “explanation,” but that was never the question. Maybe Steve and the board never really understood the question – why are you choosing to spend money like this? How many teachers are given authority to spend $100 a pop of the district’s money on posters for their classrooms? None, I bet.

And then we come to the underwear, a personal favorite of mine as it’s just so ridiculous. And what we heard was that this was Steve Battenschlag’s personal credit card. Really? Then why was it turned over in a freedom of information request for school district credit card receipts? I doubt that Steve takes American Express for his reimbursement payments.

As for the other questions posed in Bob Gunter’s article? They weren’t answered.

Many years ago, Steve B convinced the board to lease the old Coldwater Creek building on Lake St. for use as a central office. I argued against the lease, at a meeting held at Oldtown Elementary School, and after telling everyone how beneficial it was to get into the lease, Steve explained that the ‘blue building,’ where the central office was then located, was an “embarrassment.” I’m sure it was. It was old and several years beyond dilapidated. It was such an embarrassment, in fact, that ever since it’s only been used as classrooms for students.

And there’s a picture of what’s going on in the district today. Money going into a central office that won’t embarrass Steve B, while the students continue to do without. I think it’s time for the public to stand up and say, “This school district isn’t about Steve Battenschlag, and all his personal projects. It’s about students and what they need.” And for a Board who said they should discuss eliminating public comment at board meetings because they don't want to have to answer these types of questions - maybe it's time for them to start listening.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

education, Lake Pend Oreille School District, funding, Steve Battenschlag

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