SALISBURY TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT
On June 22, the Salisbury Township School District board held its regular monthly meeting via Zoom to review several important topics. The meeting is the first on the heels of the momentous decision to reconfigure the district.
Several topics were covered, but the subject that loomed large over the proceedings of the evening was the announcement of the resignation of board member Courtney Gibbs.
Board member Sarah Nemitz read Gibbs’ letter of resignation to commit the statement to the board minutes.
The letter noted that “the unacceptable and publicly unaddressed behavior” exhibited during the special board meeting June 3 catalyzed her decision to prematurely end her board term. The behavior, Gibbs noted, occurred during the board comment period before members casting their votes for reconfiguration.
At the June 3 meeting, while Gibbs spoke and cited her trepidation about shuttering Western Salisbury Elementary School in the midst of a pandemic and without what she deemed a well-thought out plan, board member Samuel DeFrank allegedly spoke over her. With an impassioned tone, he allegedly said there was indeed a plan crafted and it had required the intense labor and effort of multiple board members in the months leading up to the vote.
Gibbs requested going forward, the board strongly consider replacing her with a representative with school-aged children, noting that in the board’s landmark decision last month, all of the “no” votes on reconfiguration were from parents of school-age kids. Her letter urged that respect for each other’s views on the board should be enforced. She closed by writing, “I wish this board nothing but strength and unity in decision-making for the community.”
Some board members did not vote to accept her resignation in solidarity, but the motion still passed the board with a majority. The school board now has until July 22 to appoint and vote on a board member to fill the vacancy left by Gibbs.
DeFrank issued a formal apology earlier in the meeting, stating he was sorry for his heated commentary and asked the board and the community to recognize his feeling of being disrespected throughout the reconfiguration decision process. On several occasions, board members mentioned derisive comments and messages attacking board members were coming across through comments during the Zoom meeting, emails and on social media.
Board President George Gatanis also asked to apologize regarding DeFrank’s alleged outburst, stating he was sorry for not reacting faster to diffuse the emotional situation. Gatanis said, “It is time now for us to get our school district back on track for the students and the community in general.”
Additionally, the school board did vote to approve the final proposed budget for the 2020-2021 academic year, with a tax increase factored in to allow for a final balanced budget number. The approved budget displays total expenditures of $37,880,958, requiring a total real estate tax levy of 20.5106 mills. For property owners in Salisbury, this means an increase in taxes.
During the community comment period, several citizens did voice their opinions on the vote to close WSE. Resident Josh Wells made it clear he was upset the decision to reconfigure the district came via Zoom rather than in person. He was also “appalled” at DeFrank remaining on the board, while Gibbs was the one to resign in response to the incident which occurred early in June.
Resident Marci Stappung spoke up to say a more robust board presence at school functions could go a long way to restore and repair the community.
To close a tense and emotional meeting, Superintendent Dr. Randy Ziegenfuss said, “This community does need to heal, as many of the board and attendees have mentioned. It needs to start with empathy. It needs to start with curiosity and not trying to win an argument.” He went on to say not one of the vocal citizens at the board meetings had reached out over the phone with concern for the issues at hand. “I implore you to be more human,” Ziegenfuss said, “to be more curious with one another. Reach out. Talk.” Ziegenfuss said empathy and humanizing one another is the best path to real change and real reconciliation.
If needed, there will be a regular board meeting July 15 via Zoom. If not needed, the next regular school board meeting will be held 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19.