Let’s face it; the stuff circulating around the Ennis School Board has been hard on a lot of people. In fact, I would say no one who is involved with the school or has an interest in the school, has been immune. The turmoil is impacting the entire town in some form or fashion.
So far there is no end in sight and with no one working toward solutions focused on resolving the issues on the table and moving forward, the divisions in the community could actually get worse.
From a legal standpoint, a major issue currently in limbo concerns the Montana Teacher’s Retirement System findings that superintendent Doug Walsh and the Ennis School Board owe the TRS approximately $760,000 in wrongfully paid benefits to Walsh and benefits that weren’t paid into the system by the school district for Walsh’s contracts. The TRS finding has been appealed and the courts may ultimately decide the question if a settlement agreement isn’t reached. An appeal hearing with the TRS board is not scheduled until August 2012.
Beyond that crucial legal question, which may not be answered for nearly a year, other issues must be tackled now.
The residents of the Ennis School District need their leaders – the school board – to develop a plan to address questions and concerns the community has about how the district operates.
Questions central to the issue concern how tax money has been levied for and spent out of the transportation and adult education funds during the past several years. These are important funds for our school district and as taxpayers we have a right to ask how they’re being used, just as the school board has an obligation to explain the expenditures. This is particularly true since Montana law allows the school board to levy taxes in these funds without voter approval.
Questions about these funds are even more important now that the Montana Attorney General, in his draft opinion to the Madison County Attorney, has said adult education money and transportation money cannot be used to build a school.
Once the questions surrounding these funds are answered publically, the board should formulate a plan to more clearly and publically monitor fund expenditures. Along with this plan will be an opportunity to develop policies and procedures that will help prevent controversies like this from occurring in the future. Maybe these policies are in place and only need explaining? Regardless, let us all move forward – no more threats, no more screaming.
If the board makes this effort, we as a community must be ready to work toward an environment that celebrates what we have in common and respects differing opinions. If our leaders make an honest effort to answer questions, resolve the issues and move forward, then we have the responsibility to follow them. If we can do this, then those who want to continue the fight will eventually have no room at the table.
Here in the greater Ennis community we should carefully consider the future we’re building and the legacy we’re leaving and work toward creating a culture of resolution-based and service-focused leadership within our school district and community. We don’t always have to agree with one another – in fact, it’s probably important that we don’t – but if we can work together to develop an honest and respectful dialogue about issues critical to the school and the community, then the student’s theme “One Team, One Dream” can become a reality.