Wednesday, January 22, 2014

School board chairman Paul Bates resigns from post

Parent alleged underage drinking at trustee’s house

Express Staff Writer

Paul Bates, the chairman of the Blaine County School District board of trustees, resigned on Monday. Express file photo

    The chairman of the Blaine County School District board of trustees resigned Monday amid allegations that minors consumed alcohol at his house during a New Year’s Eve celebration the night of Dec. 31, 2013.
    Paul Bates, who lives in the mid-valley north of Hailey, issued his letter of resignation during an executive session of the school board. The School District released the letter to the public on Tuesday morning.
    It states: “My daughter had a party on New Year’s Eve. That night I went to bed early. It has come to my attention that there were uninvited kids there and things that happened that I was not aware of. That being said, it was at my house and I am responsible for what happens there. I take ownership of that night. I am deeply saddened and I apologize.”
    In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, Trustee Kathy Baker said Tuesday that a parent of a School District student made the allegation to Trustee Shawn Bennion on Thursday, Jan. 16. The board convened an emergency meeting on Friday, Jan. 17, to discuss the matter with Bates, Baker said.
    At the executive session Friday, Bates did not deny the allegations brought forth and stated that he intended to resign, Baker said. The board scheduled a follow-up executive session on Monday, Jan. 20, at which Bates formally tendered his resignation. The school board planned to make a formal announcement of the resignation at its regular monthly meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, Baker said.
    In a statement issued Tuesday, interim Superintendent John Blackman thanked Bates for his service and emphasized that the district is working to prevent underage drinking and the use of illegal drugs.
    “The district appreciates Chairman Bates’ six years of volunteer service and leadership to public education in Blaine County,” Blackman said.  “We appreciate his forthrightness in accepting responsibility for these events. For many years, it has been clear that underage drinking and social hosting is a pervasive problem in our community.
    “ … As a district, we understand and value the need for collaboration with other organizations in finding a solution to keep our students safe from underage drinking and social hosting. The district continues its efforts in preventing underage drinking through its policies, actions and the promotion of a drug-free culture. We need to all work together. No one organization can fix this.”
    Bates could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
    In an unexpected development Tuesday morning, former Blaine County School District Superintendent Lonnie Barber sent via email a letter commenting on the allegations to School District officials and regional news agencies.

I take ownership of that night. I am deeply saddened and I apologize.”
Paul Bates
Former board chairman

    Barber’s letter, originally addressed to the executive director of the Crisis Hotline organization, states that Barber is a “very concerned parent of a 14-year-old teenager in the public school system.” Barber then applauds local efforts to educate students about problems linked to drug and alcohol use.
    Lower in the body of the letter, Barber states that he attended a meeting at which “some very disturbing information was shared” by a parent of a district student. The letter states: “They shared that over the Christmas holiday their child attended an underaged party with alcohol and possibly other illegal substances … at the house of the chairman of the board of trustees and a Blaine County School District grade school teacher. If proven to be true, this is the absolute height of hypocrisy. For our School District leaders and teachers to condone underage alcohol consumption is akin to promoting it.”
    Barber’s letter ends by calling for an investigation into the matter and Bates’ resignation if the allegations are proven to be true.
    On Tuesday, Baker said that she and other district officials were not aware of the Barber letter until that morning, when it was emailed to the various parties. Baker issued the following statement upon hearing that Barber had sent the email: “Lonnie Barber is someone who has said that he has supported the School District and the students. I am disappointed that he didn’t come to us with this information first.”
    Barber abruptly left his post as superintendent last fall, after the school board voted unanimously to accept a separation agreement that called for Barber to be released from his employment contract and be paid $600,000. He had been the superintendent since 2009 and had been under contract to stay in the position until July 1, 2016. After the vote, board members said the separation was agreed to primarily because of a “difference in philosophy.”
    Baker noted that she believes the teacher referred to in the letter, a woman who is Bates’ domestic partner, should not be implicated in any way because she was out of town during the incident. Baker said that during the board’s private discussions of the allegations on Friday Bates told fellow trustees that he did not know that any underage drinking was occurring at his house, but that he ultimately would take responsibility for supervision of the guests at his house.
    “I believe Paul’s decision to resign is honorable and I have great respect for him,” she said. “I can only hope that this example of leadership Paul has shown with his actions will ignite a change in the culture of our community.”
    Pursuant to Idaho law, the School District has 30 days to officially declare a vacancy on the school board and will then have 90 days to make an appointment to replace Bates.
Greg Foley:

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