Player raps board on coach’s release

 

The dismissal last month of the head girls’ basketball coach at Custer County District High School continues to resonate with members of the community, as many have voiced their support of the coach in the form of calls and letters to the editor.

However, the Unified Board of Trustees said proper procedure was followed in the rehiring process, and the board stands behind its vote. Head Coach Jacqui Engstrom was removed from her position during the May board meeting by a 5-4 vote. Voting to retain Engstrom were Bob Wagner, Don Hofmann, Jack McNamee and Carol Bartholomew. Voting to release her were Jeff Donnelly, Scot Robinson, Dave Fiechtner, Eric Doeden and Garve Gierke.

Beth Sutter, a recent CCDHS graduate and member of the basketball team, addressed the Unified Board of Trustees at Tuesday’s board meeting, which also was attended by several other team members. During the time set aside for public comment, an emotional Sutter read from a prepared statement supporting former coach Engstrom and questioning the board’s conduct in the rehiring process. 

“I believe that the Miles City Public Schools’ Code of Ethics for School Board Members has been violated,” Sutter read. “It states ‘I will... Make all decisions based on available facts and my independent judgment and refuse to surrender that judgment to individuals or special interest groups.’  

“I don’t know where the board members got their information from, although there are a few rumors floating around, but I have spoken with a number of parents and players about it and the majority of them were not contacted and their opinions differed from the board’s decision,” she continued.

Sutter said she doesn’t expect further action on this issue, but she does hope the board will consider how they handle similar situations in the future.

“I don’t know if I would want them to revisit the issue,” she said in an interview. “But I think Coach Engstrom deserves an apology at least. There was no discussion on it, she had no idea it was coming, the administration had no idea it was coming. She was just hit in the face with it. It’s not right.”

The board was also given a letter written by Sutter’s father, Chad, echoing his daughter’s sentiments, as well as digging further into policy procedures.

“From the way the voting went some Board members made decisions without looking into fact, without consulting the people they are elected to represent, and by actually surrendering their judgment to individuals and special interests,” Sutter wrote. “My daughter played for the coach and we were never asked about her coaching, attitude, and treatment of players, ability to communicate, or other pertinent questions that should have been involved in deciding to release someone from their duties. Having spoken to several other parents of players I find that most had not been asked about the coach either.”

Sutter said he would like to see board members on either side of the issue make a motion to rescind the action and revisit it at a future date.

“I think both sides ought to be able to carry on a discussion with the A.D., the principal and the coach,” he said in an interview. “If there are persons in the community that are concerned or disappointed in her performance, they should step up. As it is, there are a lot of rumors floating around, and I don’t think when something like this happens you should be able to remain completely anonymous...It’s poor the way the board handled it, poor for them to bypass the proper steps and series of events. I think they’re shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to trying to hire coaches and teachers when this kind of thing gets around.”

District Superintendent Keith Campbell told the Star that, although he was as surprised as anyone by the vote to dismiss, the board has the right to vote as they see fit. He is confident each board member investigated the issue thoroughly to inform his or her decision. 

The Sutter letters also make mention of the lack of discussion between board members at the meeting prior to the vote, denying those in attendance a chance to speak in support of Engstrom. Campbell disagrees with this assessment, saying the opportunity for discussion was there.

“I think the process, from my standpoint, regardless of how I view the outcome, the process was followed correctly,” Campbell said. “People on the board are chosen to vote, and they did that. The public had a right to participate, they were asked to participate several different times at the meeting. Anytime you have people lined up on both sides, you’re going to have split factions. You try to be fair, make the right decision. But ultimately, it comes down to the board voting, based on what they feel like they should do. I think every person that did vote felt like they were doing it for the right reasons.”

Board chair Bob Wagner said the opportunity to speak at meetings is always given to the public; it is then up to them to use it.

“Everybody was allowed the opportunity to speak. No one would have been denied that opportunity,” Wagner said. “No one chose to. I think the procedure was followed the way it always has been.”

In his letter, however, Mr. Sutter disagreed.

“Though the A.D., the coach, and members of the public were in attendance, none were aware that the coach’s position was in jeopardy,” he said. “Had they known that, there may have been some discussion and persons interested may have spoken in support of the coach. “No such opportunity was given.”

Both Campbell and Wagner realize public comment will not always be positive, but they said it will always be welcomed and encouraged.

“We value public comment,” Wagner said. “We use public comment to make the board better.”

In other business before the board Tuesday, Head Wrestling Coach Jon Harris was rehired for the 2014-2015 school year by a 9-1 vote. 

Under staffing, new hires ratified in the Elementary School District include Jessica Anderson-Kindergarten Highland Park; Val Helmuth- 4th Grade Garfield; Cara Willson- 1st Grade Jefferson; Micha Kirkpatrick- 3rd Grade Garfield; Sara Lucero-3rd Grade Lincoln; Melinda Tangen-4th Grade Lincoln; Sarah Boucher- WMS Half time Assistant Principal/Curriculum Coordinator; Bill Hill Summer Custodian-Garfield; Jennie Yoakam- Occupational Therapist

Resignations/Terminations elementary District - Deborah Kloster-Study Hall WMS;  Corbin Knight-Special Ed Teacher WMS.

New hires to be ratified – High School District: Larry Lucero-CCDHS Principal; Jennie Yoakam-Occupational Therapist

Resignations/Terminations – High School District: Kathy Dyba- Special Ed. CCDHS-Retired; Jeremy Windham-Para/Study Hall CCDHS; Lacey Haughian-Assistant Girls’ Basketball CCDHS; Brenda Martin/Kris Crews-District Mentoring Program; Lori Raisler- CCDHS Special Ed Teacher.