Multimedia Journalist

Russellville school board censures president

Russellville Board of Education members voted to censure former board President Jerry Schulte and reorganized its leadership at a special meeting Monday.

Board Secretary Collin Steenbergen attributed the move to Schulte’s interactions with Superintendent Perry Gorrell had not been authorized by the entire board.

“Individual board members have no authority to speak or act on the board as a whole,” Steenbergen said.

Members voted to restrict Schulte’s access to the superintendent and other school district administrators and approved Shawn Ehrhardt as the new board president and Jamie Sullivan as vice president.

The board elected Schulte, a member for seven years, as president in April.

Schulte said during Monday’s meeting he had told the board he planned to take responsibility for his own actions at a previous meeting. He later told the News Tribune he was referring to submitting a written request for Gorrell to resign by July 1.

After several conversations with employees and parents, Schulte said he grew frustrated with Gorrell when no actions were taken to address their concerns. A divide between the board made it difficult to complete projects and communicate, he said.

“I gave him until yesterday to be moved out,” Schulte said. “If he did not, the week of the 7th I was going to begin a series of forums to allow all these people who had been offended or felt disrespect an opportunity to voice for themselves. There was nothing on it that concerned the school board.”

Schulte said to the room: “I have met with him many times in the past in effort to accomplish some things that we have discussed here. And time just goes on and on without any action, and I just let it go.”

Steenbergen said Schulte had asked the superintendent to resign without consulting the board.

“You have acted unilaterally without consulting any other board members, and you have done so in a way that keeps a secret from the rest of us,” Steenbergen said during the meeting.

The board previously used informal attempts to address Schulte’s conduct, Ehrhardt said.

That conduct included conversations with administrators and employees, Schulte said. At Monday’s meeting, he told the board he was being reprimanded for listening to district employees.

After the meeting, Ehrhardt said the board plans to continue moving forward.

“We are committed to operating the Board of Education as a governing board where official action is taken by the board as a whole, not individual members,” Ehrhardt said. “The board is looking forward to continuing to prepare for a successful upcoming school year.”

The meeting was to correct board procedures, Gorrell said.

“Last night’s meeting was about board action,” Gorrell said Tuesday. “The board’s actions were their actions, they believed that some corrective action needed to take place.”

More than 30 community members, including parents and teachers, attended the meeting.

Former band director Nathan Gargus said he left the district because of issues with administration. He said he felt he might be “forced out” if he remained with the district and Schulte was an advocate for employees.

“There are people that like him (Gorrell),” Gargus said. “There are people that have not had issues with him. There’s also a lot of underlying issues here.”

He added Schulte tried to be an advocate for the staff by being there for those who had concerns.

After talking with administration and board members about an issue, Gargus said, the situation was not handled.

“I know things don’t happen overnight,” Gargus said. “But in my eyes, if I have an employee in any circumstance — gas station, school, hospital, whatever — if I have an employee that comes to me with a concern … I’m going to take care of that and I’m going to treat it like it’s a threat against me or a threat against my child — and they didn’t.”

He will begin as percussion band director at Waynesville in the fall.

Elaine Buschjost, a former principal in the district who retired in 2015, said she attended the meeting to support current board members.

“The board is divided right now,” Buschjost said, adding Monday’s meeting took the focus away from students.

Many teachers and parents who attended the meeting said they came to support the administration.

Some said they were concerned after a board meeting was scheduled last month to occur over a holiday weekend at a board member’s home.

Schulte said he arranged that meeting to discuss board norms, conditions of school campus and personnel. Scheduled for May 26, Schulte said the meeting was canceled.

Schulte has submitted a letter of resignation from the board, on which no action has been taken.

The next Russellville Board of Education meeting is at 6:30 p.m. July 18 in the high school library.

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