COEUR d'ALENE - When they meet Monday, school trustees in Coeur d'Alene will consider whether to put the district's Long Range Planning Committee's monthly meetings back on the calendar after the committee was placed on "hiatus" in January.
The item was put on the school board's regular meeting agenda following one of the district's "community chat" sessions held earlier this week. During that public, informal discussion, several individuals, including some who sit on the 25-member panel, shared concerns about the suspension of the committee meetings and about the way the decision to temporarily discontinue them was handled by the board.
"It's been really frustrating to the people on the committee. They're really vested, and we just haven't gotten communication," said committee chair Angie Phillips to The Press on Tuesday.
The Long Range Planning Committee is tasked by the school district's board of trustees with reviewing the district's long range plan for programs and facilities; and with making recommendations to the board for updating or modifying the district's 10-year plan in response to new student demographic data and educational trends.
Committee membership is a four-year commitment with monthly meetings held most months throughout the year.
Last year the committee recommended, the board approved, and voters passed a $32.7 million bond that will finance the remodeling of five aging school buildings, and add HVAC systems and technology infrastructure upgrades to facilities throughout the district.
Phillips learned the Long Range Planning committee meetings were being put on hold by email the Friday afternoon prior to the committee's Monday meeting scheduled for Jan. 14.
"Just spoke to chair (Tom) Hamilton and he stated that the board had discussed that there was no need for any LRP reports at this time," states the message sent by district central office staff member Glenda Pope.
The message goes on to advise Phillips that because the committee spent a great deal of time and effort working on bond-related items, the board "would give you a well-deserved break until they call upon the committee again."
Pope then sent an email to all the committee members notifying them that the Jan. 14 meeting was canceled.
Hamilton told The Press Tuesday that the board briefly discussed temporarily discontinuing the committee's meetings. There was consensus, he said, but no motion was put forth and no vote took place.
"In hindsight, it probably would have been a good thing to do," Hamilton said. "There was no sinister intent."
The minutes from the board's Dec. 3 meeting indicate that during the "call for committee reports" section of that meeting, Hamilton, as board liaison to the Long Range Planning Committee said, "This may be the opportunity to give the committee a break as we catch up on projects."
Hamilton said that until the bid process is completed on the school building projects, there isn't a lot of work for the committee.
"But if the Long Range Planning Committee really wants to meet, OK," Hamilton said.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman told The Press Wednesday that the temporary suspension of the committee meetings was discussed during an agenda planning session at the district office, with two board members present.
Bauman said they all acknowledged how much work the committee members did during the bond campaign and thought some time off while there was a lull in activity was a good idea.
"I think we misjudged their sense of being included," Bauman said. "Not everybody recognized it as a gift of time."
Bauman said her own motivation for calling for a hiatus was to reduce her staff's workload since many of them attend the committee meetings. She said that in addition, it's unlikely the district will put another facilities tax initiative in front of voters within the next six or seven years.
"We would reconvene in the spring. That was the plan," Bauman said.
Bauman said she moved forward with the plan without the matter going before the board for action, and said that would have been "the right thing to do."
"I would just ask for forgiveness," she said.
Phillips said that in her opinion, the board should have allowed the January committee meeting to proceed and during that meeting, there should have been a discussion about whether to put the committee on hold.
In the past, Phillips said committee members have always been part of the discussion about supplemental maintenance and operations levies. An M &O levy is going before voters on March 12. In the past, members have always been asked for their opinions and concerns about these levies.
The committee was asked by Hamilton in September to participate in the levy determination process, but the decision had to be finalized by January and the committee's last meeting of the year was Nov. 26.
Hamilton said the board had to move forward and set the levy amount without the committee's input.
Phillips said it is up to the board whether to put the committee meetings on hold, but said she thinks it's a bad decision because the group is a valuable resource for the board.
"It's more than just community members that are out there talking. These people have in-depth knowledge of district finance, policies and programs. It's a very well-informed, well-educated group," Phillips said.