POMONA — Tensions were high once again Monday night at West Franklin, even as patrons talked healing and unification after months of fighting within the district.
Four new school board members joined the three sitting members for their first meeting together following April’s contentious election.
New members Jackie Robbins, Matt Froggatte, Daniel Arnett and Carol Scott Hamilton were seated at Monday’s meeting alongside Curt Altic, Lisa Reece and Tim Matthias, with Robbins selected as the new board president and Froggatte tapped as vice president.
Patrons who previously supported the controversial, ultimately failed June bond issue sported “West Franklin United” T-shirts in hopes of doing just what the shirt said — uniting, Marcy Prouty, Pomona, said.
The bond issue put before West Franklin patrons would have closed Appanoose and Williamsburg elementary schools and centralized the district to the Pomona campus, as well as other repairs to the middle school and high school. The bond issue failed 1,359 to 569 votes in the June 4 election.
In an effort to heal wounds and bring the district back together, she said, Prouty addressed the board with the definitions of the words “heal” and “unite,” asking them to consider changing the names of Appanoose Elementary and Williamsburg Elementary to West Franklin North and West Franklin South to help unite the separate campuses.
“[Renaming the elementary schools] may not be the answer,” Prouty said. “It feels to me like a step in the right direction, and I haven’t seen anything else.”
After addressing the board, school board members continued through the agenda items until members were again faced with prioritizing the list of repairs that the previous board had put together at its May board meeting. Sensing tension, veteran board member Altic questioned whether the sitting board members’ opinions on prioritizing the list of repairs would even be considered.
“What I would like to know is if our opinion matters,” Altic asked new board members.
“Absolutely,” Robbins replied. “Didn’t we go to the same [team building] meeting?”
Agreeing they would be able to work together and keep the students’ best interests in mind, Robbins said she thought the West Franklin United T-shirts, worn by previous “yes” voters at the meeting, were only stirring the pot.
Once board members openly discussed concerns about being able to work together, Robbins said she thought it was a good first step in setting the tone of how the board would continue to work together.
“I think after the eruption occurred, the meeting went much smoother and not that everyone agreed on everything, but I think it was apparent that we were there to do our job and work as a group,” Robbins said. “And I think once that needed to happen just so we could all get on the same page so to speak, because there were things said about me and them and we’ve got to drop it.”
Prouty said she didn’t see the new board members make much of an effort to want to work together at Monday’s meeting. Wearing her West Franklin United T-shirt, she said she was disheartened that Robbins took the message any other way than trying to move forward.
“Of course the ‘no’ people won’t wear their ‘no’ shirts because it’s over and done, so I was blown away by the statement [about the blue ‘united’ shirts] and shocked really,” Prouty said. “I think what Jackie [Robbins] is going to have to learn is that she’s in a critical role and she’s going to have to be diplomatic and I didn’t see it [Monday] night.”
With repairs to the school having been on the agenda for three months, Prouty and Robbins agreed the board should have set a study session before Monday night’s meeting to prioritize items and draft a timeline so items could then be voted on at the Monday night meeting.
“Until we came on board we couldn’t even suggest [a study session], so that was out of our hands,” Robbins said. “That would’ve been something [West Franklin Superintendent Dotson] Bradbury should have suggested. But that’s not something we could have suggested prior to actually being on the board.”
With no action taken on the list of repairs, Prouty said she’s not sure when any action will be taken, since the next board meeting isn’t until Aug. 12 — shortly before school starts.
“I felt like maybe they should have had a study session before the meeting [Monday] night since the meeting in August isn’t until two weeks before school, and nothing is going to get done between then and now,” Prouty said. “It’s almost reactionary. After the June meeting, immediately I would have assumed they would have got together and said ‘Here’s a priority list and in July we need to make decisions.’ I don’t feel like anything got resolved [Monday] night other than softball upgrades.”
Looking to take the first step in the right direction, Prouty said there’s no better way than to rename Appanoose and Williamsburg Elementary schools and said she won’t stop putting it in front of board members until it’s considered with a vote. Robbins, however, said she didn’t think Prouty’s suggestion to rename the two elementary schools was a good idea.
“My opinion is that we have a lot of history here [in Appanoose and Williamsburg],” Robbins said. “I think it would be sad to lose the history of Appanoose and Williamsburg, to wipe them clean. I really don’t see how that can make a bit of difference, and I think in the long run it would cause more hard feelings.”
Trying to put differences aside, Prouty said, she hopes members of the board will be the first to show they’re moving forward by working together, but she said she can’t help but be apprehensive.
“Really, like anywhere, the leadership sets the tone and right now if our leadership can’t get along, I don’t know how they expect anyone else to,” Prouty said. “I feel like all eyes are on them to kind of make the difference. There’s a lot that has to be done and there’s a lot of needs. I can understand them not wanting to make any decisions, but that’s what they’re there for.”