By Elyssa Cherney
Deanna Price donned a red shirt Monday night signifying solidarity with more than 100 other concerned parents and teachers who were geared up to vent a laundry list of frustrations to Lake County School Board members.
But Price, who has a son in first grade, went unheard when the board failed to make a quorum — an unusual occurrence — and couldn’t hold the scheduled meeting.
Many on hand were upset that they had made arrangements to attend the meeting so they could air concerns about new state and county changes that went into effect this year, including what critics call a confusing software system to enter student grades and unsuitable lesson plans from the district.
A heads-up would have helped, said Price, 31, who drove half an hour to the meeting only to find out it was a bust. The district had about two hours’ notice that only two out of five board members — and not the required three — would attend but didn’t put out an alert in the form of a news release or on social media.
“The weather was terrible…,” the Leesburg woman said. “I have small children that I had to arrange child care for, and it was my husband’s birthday.”
Two board members — Kyleen Fischer and Debbie Stivender — called in sick Monday, and Rosanne Brandeburg was in Chicago attending an education conference planned two months ago. As people flooded out of the chambers, teachers-union President Stuart Klatte said he was disappointed that the meeting was postponed.
The postponed meeting is the latest source of frustration for parents in the Lake district, which has already witnessed protests by moms and dads demanding recess for their children and an iPad shortage for students at Lake Minneola High School in the first several weeks of the school year.
“I feel that our schools are in crisis right now,” Price said. “For three out of five of them to not be there made me feel like this is not a priority to them.”
In an email at 2:30 p.m. Monday to the School Board clerk, Stivender wrote, “I don’t know what happened, but evidently my email at 12:30 today did not go through. I am on bed rest for a couple of days and will not be at the meeting tonight.”
Stivender told the Sentinel on Tuesday that she had a sinus infection and a bad back.
About 4 p.m. Monday, Fischer texted Superintendent Susan Moxley that she wasn’t going to make it because of an inner-ear infection.
“I think all three that were absent had legitimate reasons,” Patton said. “I understand the frustration, but we need to be careful and be cognizant of people’s well-being, and hopefully they recover in time for the next meeting.”
He said later that district staff “was kind of hoping” Fischer or Stivender would show up.
Patton and current board members, who make $37,140 a year, said they didn’t remember another board meeting in recent years that was postponed due to a lack of quorum.
There is no procedure for alerting the public if there will not be a quorum, Patton said. It’s the board’s decision to review the procedure for notifying the community if a meeting is postponed, he said.
Board member Tod Howard, who attended along with board member Bill Mathias, said he tried to work with the board attorney to see whether they could hold the public hearing but that there was no wiggle room in the policy. Mathias said he didn’t know that there wasn’t a quorum until he got to the meeting.
Howard and Mathias stayed for about an hour to listen to the complaints, in separate rooms to avoid violating the state’s open-meeting law, from those on hand.
Teachers have not been trained on Skyward, a new program used for entering progress reports and finding class lists, said Gail Rager, teachers-union vice president.
Many of the district-created blueprints, which dictate the curriculum teachers need to cover by the end of course exam, are too developmentally advanced for elementary students, she said.
Ruth Melton, spokeswoman for the Florida School Boards Association, said postponing meetings for lack of a quorum “does not happen often, but when it does happen, it happens for legitimate reasons.” If board members had proceeded without a quorum, they could have violated Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” laws.
Teachers and parents will have a chance to air their concerns at the rescheduled meeting next Monday. That date, however, conflicts with open houses at several schools, Klatte said.
“It will possibly affect turnout, but then I’ve heard from schools … that they are planning on having even more teachers come to the next meeting.”