During a special meeting that drew nearly 100 residents on a Friday night, Farmington Schools trustees chose board member Pam Green as their new president.
Elected in November, Green replaces Terri Weems, who was voted out of the position on January 29 during a meeting that also included comments from former trustee Mark Przeslawski. He showed a harshly worded text that he said board vice president Terry Johnson sent to him because he wouldn’t support removing Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch before his July 1 retirement.
Trustees Johnson, Angie Smith, Richard Mukamal, and Zach Rich supported Green, who abstained from the vote. Weems and trustee Jessica Cummings voted no.
Weems was also nominated Friday, but lost along the same lines, with Green again abstaining. The Tuesday vote to oust Weems was a 5-2 split, with Green joining Johnson, Smith, Mukamal, and Rich.
Listening to the public
The February 1 election was held after officials spent about 15 minutes on agenda approval. Mukamal proposed moving public comment after the officer election, which drew a rumble from the standing-room-only crowd.
Trustee Jessica Cummings, who later nominated Weems for president, objected to the move. “I don’t know why we would do that. We need to listen to the public… the opportune time to listen is before we take action.”
As people in the audience continued to react, Johnson, who as board vice president presided over the meeting, said, “I do have the authority to clear the room. Let’s be civil.”
Rich then suggested adding a public comment period after the election, Mukamal withdrew his motion, and officials approved the amended agenda.
Friday night questions
Cummings and Weems both questioned why Johnson called the meeting, when officials had tabled voting on Weems’ successor. She said she thought that meant they would vote at the board’s February 12 regular meeting.
“Twelve hours later, I received a text from Mr. Johnson about a February 1 meeting,” she said. “I would like to understand what happened in those 12 hours.”
She also questioned holding the meeting on a Friday night, when the meeting would not be “on the radar” of most residents.
Weems noted that the board didn’t seem to feel the election of a new president was urgent on January 29. “I would like an opportunity to digest what’s happened over the last couple of meetings.”
Johnson said he didn’t believe the motion was to table “until the next meeting,” but Board secretary Kim Buckley clarified from meeting minutes that it was.
In response to a question from Green, Heitsch said in the absence of a president, the school administration would act as though the vice president was president until an election was held.
Johnson said that when Weems replaced former board president Jim Stark, he asked the board to wait two weeks, but trustees said the board had important work to do.
“My question now is, I don’t know what’s changed since then,” he said. “We put someone in place at that very meeting… In my opinion, I don’t think holding this off is the right thing to do. Holding this off another 10 or 11 days just puts us in chaos.”
Weems said that trustees agreed to act immediately on the previous election. “This time, the board agreed we wanted to wait until the next meeting.”
Officials split 5-2 on the agenda approval, with Weems and Cummings opposing.
The majority of residents who spoke during public comment criticized the decision to remove Weems and chided officials for their behavior at recent meetings. Many used words like “embarrassed” and “disheartened,” others said trustees had lost focus and should start thinking more about students.
Lisa Holmes was concerned about the upcoming superintendent search.
“Who would want to be superintendent of this district?” she asked. “Google Farmington Public Schools. Our awards and achievements are not at the top of the list.”
Emily Lamott, who teaches at Hillside Elementary, brought along copies of her students’ mission statement, along with a picture of the kids. “You say we’re here for the kids, and I believe you are, but it’s so easy to forget what the kids look like.”
Parent Becky Lasecki, who is a member of the district’s PTA (Parent Teacher Association) Council, addressed social media comments that some trustees have called “cyberbullying.” She said commenters who made statements out of frustration spoke solely for themselves and did not represent the PTA.
Lasecki also urged trustees to “thicken up your skin, because we are probably not going to shut up.”
Only one speaker, parent Beate Turner, said she stands fully behind all of the trustees. She was disappointed by the emotional comments, and in Przeslawski for making the text public.
“We don’t know the facts,” she said. “Let’s all breathe, relax, and behave the best we can be.”
David Workman, a teacher and president of the Farmington teachers union, brought a message from “those of us who are closest to the students every day.”
“What you need to please always remember is the things you do in this room… they either empower and encourage us… or they distract and discourage us. It really impacts us. It’s really drawing away from the learning.”
President needs support
Cummings said an independent facilitator who will help trustees with the superintendent search during an upcoming workshop could also carve out time to help them work on their issues.
“I’m tired of the competency attacks, the character attacks and insults,” she said. “I want them to stop. Let’s get back to the critical work of moving forward.”
Weems said while any of the seven trustees could be board president, “My concern is there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of support is needed in this role…Each one of the past four presidents had overwhelming support initially. That support waned when there was a difference of opinion, when someone speaks up or speaks out.”
In order for the board to properly govern, Weems added, trustees had to work through their dysfunction.
“Dysfunctional boards can really destroy a school district,” she said.