Resignation Raises Host Of Questions

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Less than halfway into his term, Payson Unified School District Board Member Richard Meyer this week resigned — leaving in his wake a thicket of questions almost as thick as those he so persistently asked at every board meeting.

He cites “family” issues in his decision to abandon his post, in the face of huge challenges for the district.

Now, perhaps he does face a family crisis that he’s unwilling to talk about. If so, he’s right to put the needs of his family first — and we thank him for his many hours of service and his willingness to ask questions and challenge the answers. But something here bothers us.

In explaining his resignation, Meyer said he ran for the school board in part to get rid of Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval.

That sounds distressingly like a former teacher seeking a spot on the board to work out some grudge against Sandoval. If so, then perhaps he simply lost interest in serving on the board once he had Sandoval dismissed.

We hope we’re wrong about that, because that makes Meyer’s many hours of service to the district look almost petty and ultimately damaging to the district. We haven’t seen the full effects of the disruptive and largely unexplained decision to decapitate the administration — but we see worrisome stirrings of confusion and poor morale.

Of course, even if you leave the issue of Meyer’s motivation for serving on the board behind — Meyer set an unfortunate example for students by quitting without explanation, despite his promise to voters implicit in his decision to run in the first place.

Now, if we’ve misjudged his motives — and failed to credit a family need that he could not have foreseen when he ran, then we apologize in advance. In fact, Meyer often served a valuable role at board meetings through his persistent questions and a willingness to challenge assumptions and seek information. That quality often was lacking on a board that was more concerned with presenting a united front than with asking awkward questions.

We can only hope that County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell will act carefully and deliberately in naming Meyer’s replacement. The district urgently needs a strong, well-informed board member willing to not only ask the tough questions — but to insist on clear answers.

District indulges in capricious firing

The abrupt, unexplained firing of yet another dedicated Payson Unified School District employee has reopened oozing wounds and raised fresh questions about the district’s management.

Principal Kathe Ketchem on Tuesday summarily fired Athletic Department Secretary Stephanie Shields, reportedly saying “I’ve been instructed not to give you a reason.” The principal then handed a three-year district employee with an outstanding record of service a letter saying “this is a notice of termination for no cause.”

The firing finished the bloody work started last year, when the district laid off with no explanation based on job performance Principal Roy Sandoval, Athletic Director Jason Lobik and Assistant Principal Tim Fruth.

We raised questions about those layoffs last year, wondering whether it made any sense to enter a grave financial crisis by laying waste to the whole administrative team at the high school.

Of course, Superintendent Casey O’Brien and the school board have the responsibility of running the district and making those calls. We want to give O’Brien and the board the benefit of doubt in the midst of the storm.

But the capricious firing of a dedicated district employee doesn’t exactly build confidence.

Granted, Ketchem has the right to assemble her own team. Clearly, if O’Brien and the board have put the fate of the high school in her hands — she needs a team that will implement her vision. That same rule would apply to any organization including newspapers.

However, we think that treating an employee in such a high-handed fashion sends the wrong message to an already traumatized organization.

Shields’ service earned her a transfer to another job in the district. The administration’s failure to treat her with professional courtesy and respect certainly will not help morale in the district recovering from last year’s traumas.

We’re also dismayed by another possibility. Ketchem fired Shields shortly after an article in the Roundup quoted Shields on an unrelated story that reflected positively on the district. Top administrators reportedly talked to her about speaking to reporters in a way she said made her “uncomfortable.” However, O’Brien said he liked the story and it played no role in her firing. We pray that’s true.

But then who can tell, given the lack of any reasonable explanation for the firing.

It’s all a sad sequence that has spread fear and discontent just when the district needs so urgently to pull together. We hope that they’re done now: We fear they’ve only started.

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