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School Board agrees current policy on campaigning on campus not clear enough

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

Hoping to clear the air and prepare for the entrance of three new Lincoln County Board of Education members next month, the Policy Committee met on Monday night to clarify and possibly revisit standard procedures that have been in question since the election recently.
Ideas were shuffled around as education officials searched for ways to clarify policies, such as whether it is ethical or legally OK for School Board members to distribute political literature at football games or other events that may be on school property.
Though those in attendance may not have agreed with board member Ed Hatley’s decision of the time and place to campaign earlier this year, they were in agreement that the verbiage of what is and isn’t kosher in the current policy text is unclear.
School Board Vice-Chair Candy Burgin and Committee Chair Clayton Mullis were in agreement that specific time increments should be spelled out in the policy for clarification, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
David Black, schools attorney, suggested those interested in campaigning on school grounds — even if located outside of the gates — could set up an area where they are not in mandatory foot-traffic areas, to prevent those not interested from being burdened by the individual(s). Black acknowledged that there is a definite need to tighten or change the policy so that violations will not occur in the future.
Board member Bob Silver suggested changing the wording to prohibiting any activity “solicitous in nature,” whereas not to interrupt or disturb patrons who are attending a specific event or are at a venue around the county.
Hatley looked around the table and asked his peers of their opinions on his specific situation.
“Does the board see reason to censure or discipline me for this action?” he said.
He was met with a unanimous no, that the fault was the school board’s for not being more clear, but that its members will be proactive in making sure cut-and-dry wording will replace the vague and up-to-interpretation procedure.
Two outgoing members of the current board, Tommy Houser and Kelly Childers, weren’t present at this week’s meeting for their comments on the subject of politicking on school grounds or at a school-related event.
A visible weight lifted off Hatley, as he sat up straighter and agreed with other officials to move forward and instructed Black to continue to the next phase of changing the policy. The issue will be brought back to the committee at its next meeting.
Wrapping up the agenda, was the discussion of whether business relations with school board members was ethical, such as the sale of produce to Lincoln County schools. Currently, as long as those wanting to sell their products or take part in the bidding process meet all the standards and regulations, board members are allowed to participate with other local competitors.
The issue has come up after recent criticism of Houser’s sale of strawberries for use in the schools.
Mullis was unsettled with the way the policy currently reads and made a motion to no longer allow Board of Education members to participate, which did not receive a second.
“I can see both sides of it,” Burgin told the other committee members. “From the outside, people are probably wondering if the board member is getting tips on how low the bids are, or other inside information. But, we do want a quality product.”
Child Nutrition Director Byron Sackett stressed his personal opinion on staying local and keeping dollars in the area, getting the best product for the best price, even if it comes from a school official.
Silver recommended that Sackett present the Board of Education with the bid amounts and whom they are from, to keep it transparent for the public — a characteristic the current board hopes to live out with the new board that will take their seats at the December meeting.

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