Sheridan School Board reviews grievance filed against superintendent

SHERIDAN – The Sheridan Schools Board held a special meeting Thursday to address a grievance filed against superintendent Kim Harding by a former school board member.

The board held a brief public comment period before board chair Jeffrey Marsh announced the board would go into executive session and close the meeting to members of the public not involved with the grievance.

“We feel that right now it’s the right of privacy to the individuals, and we think that exceeds the public’s right to know,” Marsh said.

Former board member Karen Talley filed the grievance against Harding sometime prior to Jan. 1. Talley notified The Madisonian of the meeting Thursday morning and said she had filed the grievance against Harding, but would not provide a copy of or disclose the nature of the grievance.

Sheridan School District Policy 1700 outlines the district’s uniform procedure for addressing complaints and grievances. While the district encourages individuals with a grievance to discuss it informally with the appropriate teacher, counselor or building administrator, a chain of command exists for handling the grievance when the issue cannot be resolved informally.

Individuals may submit a written complaint signed and dated to the building administrator stating the nature of their grievance, a description of what happened and a suggestion for how they would like the issue resolved. At this point the building administrator has 30 days to address and resolve the complaint. If the complainant is not satisfied with the solution presented by the building administrator, he or she has 15 days to request that the school superintendent review the administrator’s decision.

The policy states that the superintendent has 30 days from the receipt of the written appeal to the administrator’s decision to review the grievance. In addressing the issue the superintendent has the option to meet with the parties involved in the complaint, conduct a separate or supplementary investigation, engage an outside investigator or other district employees to assist with the appeal and/or take other appropriate action to resolve the complaint.

If the complainant or individual the complaint was filed against is not satisfied with the superintendent’s decision, he or she may submit a written request that the board of trustees consider an appeal of that decision. At this point the board may place the appeal on the agenda for a regular or special board meeting or appoint an appeals panel of no less than three trustees to hear the appeal and make a recommendation to the other members of the board. The board has an additional 30 days to decide on the appeal, and all decisions made by the board are final unless it is appealed pursuant to Montana law within the period provided by law.

When a matter falls within the jurisdiction of a county superintendent of schools, the decision of the board may be appealed to the county superintendent by filing written appeal within 30 calendar days of the board’s decision, pursuant to Montana law. Sheridan’s policy does not specifically outline a procedure for addressing complaints or grievances against the school superintendent. When this is the case, the board chair may consult an outside investigator to represent the district and report back to the board of trustees.

Marsh acknowledged the board did hire a private investigator to look into the matter and report back to the school board. The board received the investigator’s report last week and reviewed it prior to Thursday’s meeting.

Following the executive session the board of trustees carried a motion granting the grievance and approving a remedy to the issue. However, this remedy was not made available by press time. It is still unclear whether it will be made public.

The next regular Sheridan School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

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