Coeur d’Alene’s outspoken school board chairman is at risk of losing his influential soapbox.
Disgruntled members of the board of trustees have called for a special meeting ostensibly to oust Ken Burchell from the chairmanship.
The meeting originally was scheduled for tonight but was postponed until after the holidays because of scheduling conflicts.
Burchell named the meeting a “hang Ken party.”
“There have been attempts to bump me off the board before, so this won’t be the first,” he said Monday.
The point of the special meeting is “for possible reorganization,” said board member Vern Newby, who called the meeting with fellow board member Tim Olson.
“At this point I’m going to withhold my comments until we get a chance to get together and talk about it,” Newby said Monday. “I want to keep this as positive as possible.”
The move came a week after a dispute erupted between board members at their regular meeting.
Burchell had approved a request by a group called Parents for Academic Excellence for a place on the agenda to discuss phonics. The presentation was too long to be delivered within the three minutes allowed for public comments.
Board member Wanda Quinn objected, saying the administration did not have any input into the presentation. She, Newby and Olson then voted to take it off the agenda.
An angry Burchell called the action “an outrage and a disgrace.”
Some parents, who are not affiliated with Parents for Academic Excellence, said Burchell’s outburst was disgraceful and undignified.
The problem isn’t politics, but personalities, Olson said.
“There’s been concern about the leadership of the board, voiced by a number of board members,” he said. “It’s more an interpersonal relationship between board members than anything else.
“It’s just a matter of how you deal with people.”
Another attempt to rein in Burchell came after the hiring of elementary principals last spring. Burchell criticized the administration’s hiring practices.
“I told them it was irresponsible to hire elementary principals without interviewing them, and I stand by that,” he said. “The board was unhappy with the strength of my comments.”
A board workshop on communication was discussed, scheduled and rescheduled, but never held, he said.
Not all school board members object to Burchell’s style. He has a strong ally in trustee Jane Curtis.
“Ken provides excellent leadership,” she said. “Not everybody agrees with everything he says or everything he does every single moment, but a working board needs that diversity to function well.”
As for the other board members, Curtis said, “I don’t know what their agenda is. I don’t know what their problem is.”
Quinn was unavailable for comment Monday, but former board member Eli Ross had some advice for Burchell following last week’s divisive school board meeting. Olson defeated Ross in the May school board elections.
“He needs to be very guarded when he doesn’t get what he wants,” said Ross, a family counselor. “It doesn’t profit him to use that language…. He needs to maintain his professional demeanor.”
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