The Board of Education of the Green Ridge R-8 School District met Friday afternoon in a closed meeting for over two hours to discuss the paid leave of Superintendent Cara Easter.
Easter was placed on leave Aug. 19 by the board, Aug. 23 issued the following statement, “Regarding the questions of our Superintendent Cara Easter. Mrs. Easter has been placed on paid administrative leave as of Friday, Aug. 19. The Green Ridge R-8 School District does not provide comment regarding confidential personnel manners. The District takes allegations of misconduct by staff members very seriously, investigates them promptly and thoroughly, and addresses them as warranted.”
Five concerned citizens attended the open portion of the meeting, which was held prior to the board going into closed session to discuss personnel issues.
Legal Counsel representatives, DeWayne Martin and Emily Omohundro from Ed Counsel, the legal firm representing the district were present during both the open and closed sessions.
Green Ridge resident Ben Banner had requested to speak at the meeting to address concerns that he and other members of the community have had for several months, primarily concerning finances and communications between the board and the community.
“I’ve come to the board on several occasions to ask questions regarding the district’s finances Banner told the Democrat. “There have been many times when matters regarding that have been approved seven-zero with no discussion.
“I’ve been here when both expenditures and revenues were both in the negatives and other times that district obligations were approved with the same vote and none of you asked any questions, “Banner said when he addressed the board. “You just approved it with no discussion.
Banner told the board that at one meeting the only person who was answered the questions regarding finances was Easter.
Board President Barry White explained to Banner and those in attendance that the budget deficit was planned on behalf of the board to spend down reserves and make necessary repairs to the schools infrastructure.
“This was a planned spend down,” White said. “There were several things we needed to upgrade and we lost a state small school grant because of our enrollment numbers and another 200,000 from the state in cuts due to attendance.
Board member Gale Dillon also responded to Banner stating, “When you asked about these concerns at a board meeting we answered you that night.
“You are accusing us of not doing our jobs and that is simply incorrect,” Dillon said. “Minutes (board minutes) don’t have to be line for line and we explained this to you at the time.”
The board was then question as to the reasons the meeting was scheduled at the 3 p.m. time with Banner adding that the reason so few citizens were present was because of the time and the lack of notice of the meeting stating the Board did not follow the process.
He was told that the agenda for the meeting had been posited on three buildings in the district and the time was for scheduling reasons to meet with the district’s legal counsel and to allow patrons to attend Tiger Night scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday evening.
At that point a motion was made to go into closed session, which was seconded and approved, seven–zero.
The Democrat spoke to the citizens who attend the open portion of the meeting and most of them expressed their concern a lack of communication with the board.
“What we really want is more transparency and communication with the board, Staci Harrison said. “That communication and transparency equals trust which is what we are seeking.”
The board met for more than an hour and a half before speaking to the Democrat.
“We want the community to know that we are addressing their concerns very seriously,” White said after the meeting. “Concerns of the deficit spending and the budget are not where we are at in the situation with our superintendent, Mrs. Easter.
“As we stated in our comments earlier this week we are still trying to come to a resolution with Mrs. Easter,” White added. “For the next 30 days she will continue to be on paid leave until the district can reach an agreement and resolve the matter.
White added that Aaron Bennett a retired superintendent from Osceola has agreed to consult with the district and serve as acting superintendent during the 30- day period.
“Mr. Bennett has over 30 years’ experience as a science teacher, principal and superintendent, and he is currently a Missouri School Board Association field representative,” White said. “He will be here to help us two to three days a week on a temporary basis until the matter with Mrs. Easter is resolved.”
Bennett will start at Green Ridge on Wednesday and Green Ridge Elementary principal, Rachel Hammers would return to her duties in that capacity.
Hammers had been named interim superintendent when Easter was placed on leave.
“We understand that patrons have questions but we are in very good shape financially,” White said. We were at 47 percent reserves and because of the loss of state funding and the planned spend down we are now at 35.5 percent in our current operating budget.
According to White, because of lower enrollment the district had to reduce their staff size by two individual, by combing some teaching positions.
“We needed to upgrade our Wi-Fi and infrastructure because of the demands for state online testing which are required,” White explained. “We also remolded our office for security purpose for the safety of our students and staff.
“We approved our operating budget in July,” White added. “It is a working budget and watch it very carefully but we are doing what we feel is best for the students and our staff and this community.”
White did agree to speak to the Democrat to address other concerns raised by community members at a later time.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.