School Board refuses to consider wives, former teachers for citizen positions
By Jennifer Eisenbart
For at least one minute Monday night, the Burlington Area School District School Board operated with some measure of levity.
In discussion of what to do about potential conflicts of interest in appointing citizen representatives to School Board committees, School Board President David Thompson admitted one of the applicants was an independent contractor with his office in Burlington.
When School Board member Phil Ketterhagen pointed out his wife doesn’t work for him – both Ketterhagen’s wife and another board member’s wife applied for citizen rep positions – Thompson had a ready quip.
“I don’t sleep with him,” Thompson said about the employee. After various degrees of laughter around the room, another board member quipped, “Whew!”
The laughter was rare, though, Monday night as the School Board tried to deal seriously with the possibility of conflicts of interest with citizen representative nominees.
The wives of Ketterhagen and Roger Koldeway both applied for citizen positions, as did former School Board member Susan Kessler. As it was revealed Monday night, so did Mervin Langley, an independent contractor who works with Thompson at Clinical Psychology Associates in Burlington and Waterford.
All three were eventually not offered citizen representative positions, and the board also found reasons to disqualify Nancy and Rick Koceja from the process.
In total, three representatives were recommended to the full School Board: Norma Miller to the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Kessler to the Policy Committee and Mark Sheldon – a former Burlington High School teacher who now works at Catholic Central High School – to the Curriculum Committee.
The full board later recommended the three appointments, though not before Phil Ketterhagen and Roger Koldeway tried to amend the recommendation with both Bonnie Ketterhagen’s and Julie Koldeway’s appointments. That amendment failed.
The process was rife with debate Monday evening, as most of the board seemed to come down in favor of not allowing Bonnie Ketterhagen (Phil’s wife) and Julie Koldeway (Roger’s wife) be considered.
Both Ketterhagen and Koldeway objected to their exclusion, saying that both had educational experience – Bonnie as a former teacher and Julie as a volunteer – that could prove invaluable.
“I don’t understand how you can say there’s a conflict of interest,” said Roger Koldeway, pointing out that Kessler and another board member often walk together after meetings. “We know our spouses don’t necessarily agree with us. Why does that preclude spouses from being a part of it, as opposed to a former board member?”
Thompson argued that the whole point of citizen representatives was to open the committees up for “a broader range of input.” While he was quick to point out he wasn’t on the board at the time, Thompson said the idea of citizen reps came about after the referendum was passed in the late 1990s.
“The board was accused of not listening to the citizens,” Thompson said. “If you have citizen members from the same family, you have less diverse input.”
The wives weren’t the only possible citizen reps drawing criticism. Both Phil Ketterhagen and Roger Koldeway raised the possibility of a conflict of interest with Bill Smitz, the manager of Veterans Terrace, as a citizen rep while board member William Campbell serves as a member of the Veterans Terrace Management Board.
Campbell denied that there was any undue influence, and asked Ketterhagen if there was any possible conflict with his daughter-in-law employed by the district.
Ketterhagen called that “so far removed” as not to be an issue, at which point Campbell said the same thing about any conflict of interest involving Smitz.
There were also concerns about the Kocejas – both are substitute teachers and Rick Koceja is the Burlington High School cross country coach.
It was also pointed out that Nancy Koceja had called out both Phil Ketterhagen and Roger Koldeway on two separate occasions. Both were separately taken out of the process for various citizen rep positions.
Sheldon was originally appointed to the buildings and grounds committee, but after Nancy Koceja was taken out of consideration for the curriculum committee, the board asked to consider him for that position instead.