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1/10/2019
SB OKs Heutte appointment

KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Thomas Heutte became the newest member of the Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday evening after he was unanimously appointed to the role by the School Board members in attendance at the regular meeting.

Heutte, who previously had applied for an earlier vacancy on the board, was the sole applicant for the position vacated in late November by the resignation of former School Board Member and Vice President Kim Hodne.

School Board Member Diane Gubatayao thanked Heutte for coming back and re-applying to serve on the board.

“You were so gracious and dignified the last meeting when we had this appointment process going on, and I’m really thankful that you reapplied,” Gubatayao said.

Heutte replied that he was “really happy to be here, thanks.”

Without much further discussion, the board approved Heutte’s appointment and he was sworn in by School Board President Matt Eisenhower to serve the remainder of Hodne’s term, which expires on Nov. 9.

Hodne’s departure had left the board’s vice-president roll vacant. Gubatayao on Wednesday nominated School Board Member Glen Thompson — who hadn’t arrived at the meeting yet — to be board vice president, and the board approved the nomination unanimously.  

However, when Thompson arrived, Eisenhower asked whether Thompson would accept the position. Thompson replied that he would have to mull the issue.

Also Wednesday, the School Board accepted the Dec. 17 resignation of Superintendent Robert Boyle by a 5-1  vote, with Gubatayao voting no.

Prior to the vote, Gubatayao explained her reasons for voting against accepting the resignation, saying that she had been reflecting on it for more than two weeks and did not come to this decision easily.

“While I agree that a change at the superintendent position was due, I do not agree with the timing and the situation,” Gubatayao said.

Referencing the School District’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding former Ketchikan High School culinary arts teacher Douglas Edwards, Gubatayao said a review of the investigation made it clear to her “that there was a failure at the systematic level, and I am part of that system as a School Board member and therefore share the responsibility for the circumstances. It is a matter of personal conscience for me. I failed you.”

 She continued that she had served under many superintendents and knew that Boyle was different, citing Boyle’s involvement in things such as collaboration between the school district and Ketchikan Indian community to increase Native graduation rates.

“I knew it was different when Bob suggested establishing the special summer enrichment session to benefit elementary students who might not be able to afford special summer programs or contributed out of his superintendent’s budget to help fund challenge day for our students,” Gubatayao said. “So this is how I chose to remember Bob’s contributions to our district, among others, and not focus on the shortcomings, because we all have shortcomings. So I accept that change was due, but I cannot support this method.”

After Gubatayao’s comments, the board voted to accept Boyle’s resignation from the position in which he had served for more than a decade.

Since Boyle’s departure from the district in December, the district’s curriculum and professional development director, Beth Lougee, has been serving as acting superintendent.

On Wednesday, the board gauged Lougee’s interest in serving as interim superintendent. Lougee indicated her interest in the position, and the board directed district Human Resources Director Rick Rafter to negotiate a contract with Lougee. The resulting negotiated contract would come back to the board for possible approval.

Later in the meeting, the board had a conversation with Timi Tullis of the Association of Alaska School Boards about possible assistance from the association in a search for a new superintendent. The superintendent search topic is expected to be on the agenda for the next School Board meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 23.

Eisenhower addressed the district’s ongoing investigation process regarding Edwards, who was arrested in June on multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor — just days after his retirement after 15 years with the school district.

In December, the board heard a final investigation report compiled by from Seattle-based attorney Suzanne Michael, and agreed on a three-point plan that included a more in-depth investigation into the issue.

On Wednesday, Eisenhower cited the plan and the additional investigation before saying that he’d received the executive summary from the attorney and investigator about an hour before Wednesday’s meeting.

“I apologize to the board and to the public for the lateness of that,” Eisenhower said. “We'd committed to have that done by December, but that was out of our control and at the mercy of their offices that got hit by vacations and holidays.”

He said that the executive summary came from the attorney and investigator without necessarily having had the School Board’s input.

“We felt that was an appropriate and important good faith effort to make sure that the information got out to the public without our undue influence,” Eisenhower said. “But we also balanced that with the fact that we want to protect the individuals who are part of the investigation, as well as the ongoing criminal part, of which we are not a part of.”

Copies of the executive summary were made available to the School Board, and there was discussion that the executive summary would be posted for the public on the School District’s website.

“We'll make sure we get it out to folks as much as possible,” Eisenhower said.  

There also was discussion about the policy committee portion of the board’s action plan.

Gubatayao said that a meeting of the policy committee was scheduled for noon Jan. 16 at the Ketchikan Pioneer Home.

“It’s open to the public,” she said, adding that “for sure I think some of the first policy we will be looking at will be relevant to this issue with Doug Edwards and the investigation.”