Barber fails to recognize new leadership era for BCSD

The many changes in governing positions have ushered in a new leadership era for Blaine County School District. Former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Steve Guthrie, was voted out May 2013. Vice-Chair, Don Nurge, resigned soon thereafter. Former Superintendent, Lonnie Barber, signed a Separation Agreement in September 2013—the Trustees sited “differences in leadership style.” Guthrie’s successor as Chairman, Paul Bates, resigned last week because minors had been drinking alcohol in his home on New Year’s Eve.

Our current Board of Trustees demonstrated decisive action when responding to the recent social hosting event at former Chairman Paul Bates’ home. Currently in Blaine County we have a serious under age alcohol and drug consumption problem. Some adults in this valley practice social hosting: holding parties for minors in their homes at which alcohol is provided.

The other Trustees did not learn of the occurrence at Bates’ home on New Year’s Eve until Friday, January 17th. They convened an emergency meeting within hours. Bates chose to resign and tendered his resignation at another emergency Board meeting on Monday, January 20th. The full announcement by BCSD of Paul Bates’ resignation, which includes Bates’ and others’ statements on the issue, can be found here. This statement was emailed out to the community at 11:36 a.m. Tuesday, January 21st. Would the former board under Steve Guthrie’s leadership have acted so quickly? Highly doubtful.

Apparently former Superintendent Lonnie Barber expected the Board to dither. On Tuesday morning, January 21st, he sent out a vitriolic email to members of the community regarding the issue. Even when it was made clear that the situation had been resolved via a formal announcement that Bates had resigned, Barber still showed up at the Board of Trustees meeting to denounce the circumstances at Bates’ home.

Let us review Barber’s own record. Lonnie Barber stood up at Tuesday’s School Board meeting and stated (see webcast here–his comments begin at 50:45): “I think it’s ironic and a little bit sad that Mr. Bailey’s presentation [speaking as president of the Blaine County Community Drug Coalition] came tonight on social hosting. And that we have to legislate morality. We should know the right thing to do.”

For years law enforcement and lawyers have worked toward passing an ordinance that would make social hosting illegal in Blaine County. However, before this past autumn—i.e. while Barber was still superintendent—that work was not supported by the School District.

Jennifer Liebrum’s excellent article in the Mt. Express states:

“The [Blaine County Community Drug] Coalition has been working with law enforcement and lawyers to draft Blaine County’s first-ever social hosting ordinance, which widely interpreted is a law that would impose liability against individuals responsible for underage drinking events on property they own, lease or otherwise control.”

So why hasn’t the School District Office worked with the Community Drug Coalition—a separate entity—prior to this past autumn? There is no evidence in the public record of Lonnie Barber supporting the Community Drug Coalition during his years as superintendent. As soon as he stepped down, however, administrators in the school district began to actively, publicly support the coalition. It appears that the removal of Barber as superintendent freed school administrators to openly support the coalition.

The true irony at the recent School Board meeting is that the person who never supported a social hosting ordinance in our community—when in an excellent position to do so—had the temerity to berate administrators and trustees for not speaking earlier against this practice. And he did so at the very place that while superintendent he could have encouraged community support for such an ordinance, but never did. His behavior is beyond ironic; it is hypocritical.

And if it’s unnecessary to legislate morality—as Barber suggests—then let us simply strike murder, statutory rape, and child abuse from the law books. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, so apparently we do need to legislate morality.

Barber went on to list desirable behaviors he hopes his daughter exhibits when she is an adult. He finishes with,

“I want to end only by reading number five [of the Strategic Plan]. I don’t want to read anything in this except the title: ‘Healthy Behaviors: Our students demonstrate healthy social and emotional behavior with the support of parents and the community.’ And that should start with the Board of Trustee leadership.”

Yes, healthy social and emotional behavior should be exhibited by Board of Trustee leadership, but they don’t start there. They start at home. All throughout Barber’s public comments, his statements were laced with snide, belittling, and nasty tones. I’d be embarrassed if my children ever exhibited the same. Barber’s behavior at Tuesday’s School Board meeting went beyond “sad and a little bit ironic.” His behavior was tragic and hypocritical: he was unable to exhibit the desirable adult behaviors he outlined. Hopefully Lonnie Barber can learn to embody the excellent traits he spoke.

A former employee no longer holds any power over others within the organization. We are in a new era of BSCD leadership with proactive, responsive trustees and administrators who are seeking to fulfill our School District Mission Statement: “To be a world-class, student focused community of teaching and learning.”

District and school administrators are actively supporting the Community Drug Coalition’s efforts to legislate an ordinance making social hosting of minors illegal. I applaud their efforts. There are many ways to become involved in the work ahead for those who are interested in the health and welfare of our valley’s children. Alongside that work, there are two critical BCSD positions needing to be filled: a Trustee seat and the Superintendent position. Links to become involved in all these areas can be found at the School District Website.

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