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Citizens rip school board over coach decision as meeting adjourns without public comment

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

It was not the audience typically seen on a meeting night of the Duneland School Board.

Often the seats are filled with parents and families of students giving a presentation, or principals, teachers and department heads, but Monday’s meeting attracted a different audience. In the back stood a line of Lady Trojan soccer players in uniform.

All were quiet throughout the brief, uneventful meeting until after the gavel fell and the board adjourned.

“What just happened?” someone shouted.

Things became heated as members of the audience grilled the board on why there was no opportunity given for them to speak.

The board’s agenda typically does not list public comment as an item.

Audience members said they were supporters of David Galloway, CHS girls soccer coach from 2010 to this past school year, and whose contract was not renewed last week for the upcoming season.

Earlier in the meeting, the board in their consent agenda approved 4-0 the latest personnel report that appointed Jason Conway to move into Galloway’s position as head coach of the Girls Varsity Soccer team.

The decision visibly upset some, who beseeched the board to open the meeting back up.

Board President Ralph Ayres advised that there is a policy in place that if someone from the public has an issue they would like to present to the board, that person needs to notify the superintendent’s office prior the meeting.

The agenda template states in bold, “In order for a member of the public to have an item of business considered for placement on the Board agenda, that person shall contact the superintendent of schools to discuss the item at least seven working days prior to the next scheduled meeting of the Board.”

Ayres, who as president sets the agenda, told the audience he was not contacted regarding the soccer coach issue. No one else from the board said whether or not they had been contacted.

Furthermore, the board is not to address personnel matters before the public, Ayres said. Those can only be discussed in closed executive sessions, he said.

But that didn’t calm the audience members who felt they had the right to be heard.

“What did you think we were all here for?” said Terri Kopil of Illinois, Galloway’s sister. “We’re asking you to hear about someone we care deeply about. These girls are here because they care about their coach.”

A few parents in the audience cited Galloway’s reputation as a coach, such as last year’s championship victory in the Duneland Athletic Conference.

One mom said her daughter is going to play soccer while in college, attributing that to Galloway’s coaching.

Others present, like John Hufnagal, who said he is a friend of Galloway’s and girls soccer coach at Kankakee Valley High School, asked specifically where in the meeting did the board approve the coaching change.

Ayres explained that the board hears the recommendations of the school administrators who present the items in the consent agenda, which the board votes on and is usually the first action of the meeting.

Hufnagel asked, “where is the debate” in the process. He said he believes what he has to tell the board could be important in their decision making. “There are people here who deeply care about this issue. We got completely glossed over because we didn’t understand what a consent agenda is?”

Others in the audience said that school board meetings elsewhere like “Cedar Lake and Merrillville” give the public time to speak at their meetings.

Hufnagel slammed the decision to replace Galloway as “toxic self-interest” and “biased” on the part of school administrators. He called for the board to “conduct an investigation” into the matter and said there have been issues going on since last fall. He said the board has the power to take something hidden and bring it to light.

One audience member told the board not hearing the other side out “creates the perception that there is something to hide.”

Galloway, sitting in the audience, admonished the board for “not giving anyone an opportunity to speak about this.”

The board’s Vice-President Kristin Kroeger, who holds the Jackson Township seat on the board, echoed Ayres’ comments about the board’s restriction from discussing personnel matters publicly. “We have to follow the law,” she said.

As board members were trying to move into an executive session following the meeting, member Ron Stone, who is the board’s Liberty Township representative, said he would be willing to stay and hear attendees’ concerns, although the board had already made its decision.

“I think they should be heard,” Stone said, garnering a round of applause from the audience.

Ayres said he had “no problems” personally in hearing comments but it could not be with three or more board members in the room. He and Stone sat with the Galloway supporters after the meeting, while Kroeger and member Mike Trout exited.

Board member John Marshall was absent from the meeting.

Trout told the Chesterton Tribune that in his years on the board, he’s never seen such a tense reaction to how the board conducts its business. He thought initially seeing soccer uniforms and shirts that maybe those in attendance were there to support Conway as the new coach.

As to whether something should be done about putting public comment back on the agenda, Trout said he thinks it’s “something for the board to consider.”

Since Galloway is not a teacher, his contract as a coach must be applied for each year, said Trout. Coaching appointments are made in large part by the principal and the schools’ athletic director, he added, and the decision was not a hasty one.

“A lot of time went into this,” said Trout. “We have a new soccer coach. That was the recommendation from the administration and we acted on it, so let’s move on.”

Kroeger admitted that the preference among school officials is that a coach be someone who is a teacher in the school district.

Conway is a fourth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary and coached Girls JV soccer last year.

Trout said people should not let their emotions take control of them and that it should be realized that schools everywhere will hire a new coach for various reasons, even when the current coach has a commendable record.

“It happens all the time,” he said.

 

 

Posted 7/15/2014