School Board Debates New Rule On Nepotism

After spirited discussion, board postpones vote on allowing spouses to work on same campus

“It really is a crock. I had granddaughters in (the Achieve Hour). The kids felt it was good class.”
Barbara Underwood
School board president

“It really is a crock. I had granddaughters in (the Achieve Hour). The kids felt it was good class.” Barbara Underwood School board president Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The Payson School Board Monday after a spirited debate voted to drop a political hot potato in the lap of incoming Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.

The issue centers on a proposed change in the district policy about letting husbands and wives work at the same school, a perhaps surprisingly common situation in small rural schools like Payson.

Outgoing Payson High School Principal Kathe Ketchem, whose husband at one time also worked at the same school site, said a rural district couldn’t afford to drive off families in which both the husband and wife worked in education.

“In a rural district, you need to always keep that in mind. I don’t think it’s a huge issue for an administrator and a spouse to work on the same campus so long as one is not supervising the other,” said Ketchem.

Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Rob Varner agreed, noting that when his wife worked on a campus he administered, Ketchem acted as her supervisor, although based on a different campus.

“I hope we don’t limit ourselves. We want the best people in the best positions in the best interests of the kids,” said Varner.

However, several board members said they felt even having a spouse working on the same campus as a school administrator posed a conflict of interest.

“We have been inconsistent in the past,” said Board President Barbara Underwood.

“I know there have been problems in the past. The policy needs to reflect exactly what we have in mind,” said Underwood, before recommending the board ask Hitchcock to come up with the wording for a new policy when he takes over in July.

Outgoing Superintendent Casey O’Brien, whose wife worked off and on for the district as a teacher, maintained a decorous silence on the issue in his last meeting as superintendent.

Several board members suggested that the district could also grant exemptions from the policy when the spouse of an administrator had some hard-to-find qualification the school needed.

“An exemption is one thing,” agreed Underwood, “the policy is another. You never want to make it look like someone is being treated differently for one reason or another.”

Board member Barbara Shepherd said “I agree. I think it’s also important we have no vendor conflicts. I’m OK with them working for the district, so long as they’re not supervising one another.”

Rory Huff, participating in the meeting through a phone hookup, said, “in special circumstances I’m OK” with spouses working on the same campus. “But it puts the motion to ask Hitchcock to propose a policy passed on a 3-1 vote, with Shepherd dissenting and board member Kim Pound absent.”

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