The Farmington Public Schools Board of Education is without a president, as trustees voted 5-2 on Tuesday to remove Terri Weems from the position, but tabled electing a successor.
The move came at the end of a tense meeting during which former trustee Mark Przeslawski shared a printed version of a text message he said he received from Trustee Terry Johnson, after refusing to support the removal of Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch before his July 1 retirement.
Przeslawski said Johnson and Trustee Angie Smith called him before a December 11 board meeting about the matter. While initially persuaded, he said he considered factors like the lack of due process and the district having to pay Heitsch a half-year’s salary.
“That would have torn apart this district, and I could not support doing something like that,” he said.
After the meeting, Przeslawski said, Smith and Johnson called, then Johnson sent the harshly worded text. A screenshot copy of the text was shared widely on social media. In it, Johnson accuses Przeslawski of being “a weak dishonest boy that needs to be liked because he has no self esteem.”
“You never should have gone into politics. It showed tonight. You have led nothing since you have been here,” the text continued. “You are a follower. A weak one at best.”
Later in the meeting, Johnson said he stands by his words, but also said people have “half the facts.”
“What you don’t see is the comments that came from the person I sent this to. You didn’t hear what they said.” He also alluded to people who have been hurt by district leadership and said the real issue is “turning this district the right way.”
Former trustee Howard Wallach during public comment said, if he’d heard Przeslawski correctly, the text confirmed rumors aired at the board’s last meeting. When Johnson interrupted him, claiming that wasn’t true, Weems called a recess.
Comments: Hire a search firm
When trustees returned a few minutes later, Weems asked them to refrain from responding to comments: “As elected officials, we are held to a higher standard. Public officials, elected bodies are subject to scrutiny…It is inappropriate for board members to berate the public at a public meeting.”
Wallach and long-time district resident Leland Bassett encouraged trustees to hire and rely on a search firm to help them in the process of replacing Heitsch.
Wallach said that a good search firm “will make your job much, much easier.” While some trustees have suggested delaying the process, he said that most candidates will be looking for jobs starting in March.
The search firm, Bassett said, will not tell trustees what to do, but provide them with knowledge. He said board members should consider adopting the theme “Say Yes to Kids”, which moved forward a successful bond campaign several years ago.
“Take three deep breaths, talk with each other, and listen to each other,” he said. “Today’s decisions should be based on tomorrow’s hopes and dreams, and not on yesterday’s fears and hurts.”
A leadership issue
The motion to oust Weems came from new trustee Richard Mukamal, who was sworn with Pam Green and Zach Rich at the last board meeting. While hopeful that a February board workshop with a facilitator would resolve some issues, he said, “I do believe that there is a leadership issue as well.”
“It’s a new board, and I think that we should have the opportunity of having somebody as president that the majority of the board would like,” he said.
Rich supported the motion. He said he’d heard Weems refer to the board as “her” board, and “at the end of the day, it’s your way or the highway.” He pointed out that the president’s responsibilities include “making sure meetings are run smoothly, and even tonight you just declared a recess without any vote.”
Trustee Jessica Cummings supported Weems, citing the hours of work she has put into projects like the superintendent search recommendations. She asked her colleagues to table the decision until after the workshop, “where we can build our relationships and move forward.”
Weems noted that officials have been talking about trust issues since June of 2018 with no resolution, and that wouldn’t change no matter who sat in the president’s chair. She said she had received praise from Johnson and Smith about her communication and transparency, until trustees disagreed over whether Heitsch should stay on through his retirement date.
Whatever the result of the vote, Weems said, “I expect we will behave like adults going forward, rather than petulant children.”
View the entire meeting at tv10.viebit.com.