Vote of NO CONFIDENCE for Blaine County School District Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes

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Vote of NO CONFIDENCE for Blaine County School District Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes

To: The Blaine County School District Board of Trustees

We, the undersigned Parents of children who are attending, or have attended, Blaine County public schools, and/or we who are concerned Community Members, have created this instrument to formally express our dissatisfaction with the current superintendent, GwenCarol Holmes.

Based on the performance and behavior of Superintendent Holmes, we, the undersigned, are expressing a “Vote of No Confidence” in Dr. Holmes and her ability to successfully oversee the Blaine County School District (BCSD).

There is growing evidence that Dr. Holmes is increasingly – and intentionally –disconnected from parents, teachers, staff and community members.  Despite her claims of “public input on school matters”, she routinely ignores community requests, ignores results of public surveys, and ignores or incorrectly applies state law on Open Meetings and Public Records.  This is her very first job as a Superintendent, and her uncooperative attitude, disdain for public feedback, and silencing of teachers shows she does not know how to operate in a district that cherishes transparency and values the public’s voice.

From the beginning of her tenure at BCSD, Superintendent Holmes’ has consistently acted to gather ever-increasing personal power:  inordinate power over the Board of Trustees, over the taxpayers who fund her salary; and, over the teachers who are the lifeblood of this once thriving district.

She has not improved overall educational outcomes at BCSD (whose results are decidedly middle-of-the-pack) despite being the highest paid superintendent in the state, despite having more admins per student than almost every other district in the state, and despite having far more money (often 2 to 3 times more) per student than any other district in Idaho.

Under her contract, the Superintendent can be Terminated for Cause for “material financial mismanagement of the District or a material violation of any provision of the Idaho Code of Ethics for Professional Educators.” Among other things, we believe she has wasted large amounts of taxpayer money and we allege she has violated ethical standards. As such, we believe she can be terminated for cause without the need to incur (yet another) poorly negotiated severance package.

What follows is a partial list of specific behaviors that demonstrate her lack of suitability as a public school superintendent:

Financial Mismanagement/Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

  • In 2016 she spent $25,000 of BCSD funds on lawyers to fight a simple Public Records Request under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and lost in court.
  • Currently, Dr. Holmes is paying BCSD general fund money to multiple attorneys to defend her against multiple lawsuits:  she spent $5,500 on legal bills in Feb, 2019 and nearly $8,000 in March.  April and May bills will likely be much higher, as she continues to meet with attorneys and, for example, insists on fighting an expensive 1st Amend lawsuit that could have been settled with an apology.  A recent history of her high legal bills is below:
    • In 2015-16, BCSD spent ~$69,000 on legal fees
    • In 2016-17 BCSD spent ~$71,000 on legal fees     
    • In 2017-18, BCSD spent ~$68,000 on legal fees
  • She has lavished the bloated – and growing – BCSD administrative staff with exorbitant benefits, including full funding of THREE retirement plans, five insurance policies, cell phones, laptops, and a variety of other perquisites unbefitting public servants.  
  • In 2017-18, the extra administrators retirement plans (i.e. beyond the ONE required by state law) cost BCSD $423,000.   For a district of 3,400 students, 23 administrators cost taxpayers $15,312 per day, just in salary and retirement.
  • She has dramatically grown central administration headcount including a PR Department that costs north of $250,000 per year. (A PR Department that the public specifically said they did not want.)
  • She pursued actions that led school administrators to unionize (very rare) and,  as a result, these admins received significant raises (which she denies, but is matter of public record) ... they now cost the district more than ever. 
  • She bluffed the callow Board of Trustees into renewing her contract – with a big raise – for an additional 3 years, 2 years before it expired. She told the Board she was a "finalist" for a job with another district.  The other offer was never substantiated.  The buffaloed Board rushed to renew her contract and added a one-year severance provision (meaning she gets a full year of pay if she is not fired for cause).   

Consolidation of Power / Ignoring the Community / Questionable Ethics

  • She has regularly ignored community feedback on important issues (e.g., on: spending priorities, communications / public relations department, school calendar, future of the community campus, part time employment for WRHS’ outstanding college counselor to transition the department). She is deft at shutting down civil dialog with arcane — and often invented — legalism.
  • She has named herself chairperson of every advisory committee, thereby controlling what the Trustees see and hear from the committees.  Community members on those committees are out-voted by the employees Holmes has assigned to them.  The Policy Committee, in particular, has been controlled by Holmes for several years now, resulting in BCSD Policies that are extremely restrictive for staff, students and the public, while giving the Superintendent the lion’s share of power and control, even over the Trustees.
  • In the rare cases when her stacked advisory committees do not support her policies (as the teachers staffed grading committee did not do re: her new, cockamamie grading schema) she simply rams the policy through her “rubber stamp” board. 
  • She refused to act/investigate when informed by parents of salacious behavior between a high school administrator and staff member.  And, between a staff member and students. Only when there was a big public outcry did she say it was “investigated.” Yet, many of the alleged victims have testified that they were never contacted. 
  • She has falsely accused a senior BCSD executive and a board member of having sexual relations, thereby resulting in another lawsuit, this time for slander.
  • She has ignored several internal complaints of a hostile work environment, harassment, bullying and retaliation.  Multiple excellent employees and teachers have recently left BCSD as a result.
  • She needlessly censored a student representative’s report to the Board that politely highlighted students’ dissatisfaction with a change to graduation date, refused to apologize, and now faces a federal civil rights lawsuit over freedom of speech.
  • She needlessly shut down a student’s harmless A.P. Government class survey, refused to apologize, and now faces a federal civil rights lawsuit over free speech.
  • She ignored two bullying incidents in WRHS PE classes (same PE teacher) that have resulted in serious injuries/broken bones, criminal investigations, and at least one lawsuit. 
  • She has ignored a senior Human Resource administrator’s repeated attempts for action regarding significant HR issues (including an issue regarding disabilities and sex scandals). The HR executive pursued whistleblower action and was shut down.  For a near certainty, there is another Federal lawsuit forthcoming.
  • She makes hires of unqualified “yes people.”  She does not post jobs in a timely manner and she does not interview a customary number of candidates.  Her number one hiring criterion seems to be for candidates who will unquestioningly do her bidding. 

Because of all this, and more, the community feels Dr. Holmes’ is unworthy of her leadership role; specifically, regarding trust, collaboration, decision making, communication and respect—or lack thereof—for students, parents, teachers; and citizen/taxpayers.

The culture of a school district emanates from the its leadership. Right now, the culture is “We” (BCSD leadership, including her captive Board of Trustees and her lickspittle battalion of Principals) vs “They” (teachers, students, parents and citizen/taxpayers).  Right now, the culture is one of fear: cross GwenCarol Holmes and lose your job; cross GwenCarol and say goodbye to your local scholarship. For the sake of students, teachers, parents, district employees and the entire Blaine County community, we ask that you, our elected BCSD Trustees, remove this superintendent – with cause – from her position before the start of the next school year.  Restore the joy, vitality – and exceptional teaching – that once characterized the BCSD!

                                             Signed,

                                             The Parents, Teachers and Citizens of Blaine County