Heated words flew across the table of the Princeton School Board for the second meeting in a row.
Both times the statements related to the subject of requesting school district data, and both times involved Board Members Chuck Nagle and Craig Johnson. At the latest meeting, Sept. 24, Board Member Howard Vaillancourt also weighed in with emotion.
After a discussion at the Sept. 10 meeting on data requests, the board passed a motion to have Superintendent Julia Espe try to find someone to train Espe and possibly some board members on the rules for requesting and giving out district data.
Espe had started the Sept. 10 discussion by saying the district needs a formal policy, and commented, “We don’t get many (data) requests.”
But Johnson offered a different opinion. He stated that Nagle, through his requests for district data, had caused the board to take up the issue.
Discussion heats up
Johnson expressed those feelings even more heatedly at the Sept. 24 meeting following statements that Nagle made and actions he took during a portion of the meeting.
Nagle recused himself as a School Board member to speak as a member of the general public during the citizen’s forum portion of the meeting. Standing at the front of the board table, Nagle recalled his experience of obtaining a document from the school district office. The document was delivered in a box large enough to hold reams of paper and was set on the counter with his name written on it in “huge letters,” he said. Nagle said the document was “this little tiny thing” in the bottom of the box.
“So somebody was trying to make a point,” Nagle continued. “I know what the point is because some years ago it was in (the) newspaper that I had been requesting boxes and boxes of documents from a government agency and they were overwhelmed with requests from me, and I’m hearing that similar kind of comment from people around this table.
“So I just want to set the record straight,” he said. In that previous encounter when there were boxes and boxes of data reported, it just amount to a handful of documents, he said.
“Now as a School Board member, it has been suggested that I have been overwhelming the staff with requests for information, I’m bombarding them, they can’t get their work done because there are so many requests for information,” Nagle continued.
Nagle presented what he called an “official list” of every document he received from the district since the start of the year, and said they totaled 11. All came by email and one of the 11 documents was something he hadn’t requested, Nagle added.
Nagle also noted that he supplied the document list to Espe two weeks before the board meeting to allow her time to verify the list and supplement it if needed.
“There may be something missing,” Nagle said. “I’m not infallible, but I have concluded it took about one hour of someone’s time to deliver those 11 documents to me and I will use $50 per hour to pay the district to receive those 11 documents.”
With that, Nagle handed a stack of 50 one-dollar bills to board treasurer Jeremy Miller.
“This is to pay for this enormous amount of time I have caused the district on my behalf because I need a little additional information. Since I’m a new School Board member, I’m trying to learn how this all works. I’d like to have a little additional information so I can make an informed decision.”
Board Chair Deb Ulm then moved on to the part of the agenda in which board members report on activities involving their committee assignments. Johnson volunteered to go first and used the first part of that time to criticize Nagle’s comments.
Johnson challenged the numbers that Nagle gave for the amount of document pages he received from the school district, stating that four or more of the documents has more than one page.
“So I think this is a bunch of crap,” Johnson said. “I come into the district office some days to check with Julia (Espe) on some things, and the few times I’ve come in, maybe a half dozen in the last year, I’m bombarded with questions of Chuck’s behavior by staff. It’s harassing. It’s demeaning. It’s intimidating, and yes, a lot of it is wasteful time and expenses.
“I recommended to staff they file an HR complaint (for harassment). …They’re feeling harassed and demeaned by the requests. Julia received over 80 emails in less than two weeks. Eighty of them. That’s … absurd. I don’t have one person out of 1,500 people that I represent (in a union) that I have 80 emails (from). … I don’t even have that many with my mom, my kid.
“That’s obsessive. There’s something wrong with it. And those are all requests of one kind or another, whether they’re in paper form or verbal form. And I think that kind of behavior needs to stop.”
Johnson also told Nagle: “You can’t go in the buildings and intimidate the staff and (have) requests from principals and do all this stuff, and you’ve been told that. And then to grandstand with this crap, it’s offensive. It’s beyond the scope of a board member.”
Minutes later, Johnson, Nagle and Ulm got into a discussion concerning board meeting protocol.
Ulm said she would prefer, as board chair, to know in advance what a board member intends to bring up so that she can prepare for how to handle it.
Miller added that if a board member wants something put on the agenda to discuss, they don’t always get it added.
Vaillancourt weighs in
“I’m a bit offended how this meeting started,” Vaillancourt said. “Offended because I think someone has to decide what is their role as a board member and their role as a community member. As a board member you have committees, you have access to administrators, you have access to what goes on in the various processes to get things done,” Vaillancourt said.“I want to use the term ‘grandstanding,’ and that’s exactly what happened here to get some publicity and to get a couple of photo opps. That is not the way the board operates. That is not the way the board should operate, and the choice is, are you a community member or are you a board member, and I don’t want an answer on that,” he said.
“But I’m extremely offended by that. I’m extremely offended by a number of things where you don’t get your way. We have a thing on the consent agenda tonight where I didn’t get my way. For the greater good of everything, that’s the way it goes. It’s called what you do when you are elected and you look at the big picture, not your little cube.”
Espe on Sept. 27 emailed information to the Union-Eagle pertaining to the number of emails that Nagle had sent to Espe. Espe said she did this following Nagle’s request to her that she verify the number of emails he sent to her.
Here is what Espe stated in a Sept. 27 email to the Union-Eagle: “Although I do not believe that a number of e-mails shows the root cause of the issues brought up at Tuesday night’s board meeting, I did go through and count them myself. Since Sept. 1, I have received 51 e-mails from Chuck (Nagle).
“However, most of those messages required me to contact others to fulfill or answer his questions and so his e-mail is in the threads well over that number. The role of governance is every school board member’s first priority. Distinguishing between operations and governance seems to be a common theme in all of the e-mails received.”