Polson school board considers agreement to bring superintendent's exit

2012-03-14T06:30:00Z 2012-03-14T07:11:28Z Polson school board considers agreement to bring superintendent's exitBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
March 14, 2012 6:30 am  • 

POLSON – Polson School Superintendent David Whitesell could be out the door, on his own accord, by Wednesday evening.

The school board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the District 23 office building to consider the terms of a voluntary resolution agreement that, if approved, would have Whitesell submitting his resignation on the spot.

The agreement carries a $120,000 price tag that would be paid to Whitesell for “alleged emotional distress.”

It calls for Whitesell to discontinue a complaint he filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the district on Feb. 24, alleging he has been discriminated against because he is Native American. The complaint identified trustee Nancy Lindsey as having allegedly made remarks of a racial nature about Whitesell.

It also calls for trustee Bob Ricketts to withdraw his request for a police investigation into lost documents that Ricketts alleged Whitesell had destroyed.

Whitesell signed the resolution agreement Monday.


The superintendent, who was hired in 2009 to replace Sue McCormick, has been at the center of several controversies during his 2 1/2-year tenure.

In his first year, his yard was vandalized after Whitesell proposed administrative moves that were unpopular with several people. Police reported that someone had placed real estate signs with “Go home” and “Go back” written on them in Whitesell’s yard.

Last year, the superintendent accused the Lake County treasurer of illegally handling school district funds, which brought about a request for a public apology from Lake County commissioners.

“(A) professional person does not make baseless allegations in a public forum,” the commissioners wrote to Whitesell. “It takes away all the public trust to make unfounded statements.”

At the time, Whitesell told the Lake County Leader that he stood by his statements.

This year, the board has spent time discussing a letter Whitesell allegedly wrote to current board chairwoman Caryl Cox charging that she had overstepped her authority and violated open meeting laws.

Cox turned the letter over to board attorney Michael Dahlem, and the Lake County Leader reported Cox told the board last month that “Mr. Dahlem felt that Mr. Whitesell made some very libelous accusations against me.”


Last month, trustee and former chairwoman Theresa Taylor resigned from the school board after 12 years, saying the board had become compromised in its ability to function.

“During the last several months I have witnessed or been advised of actions taken by some of my fellow trustees that I have found questionable,” Taylor wrote in her resignation letter. “During recent weeks those actions, in my opinion, have gone from questionable to unethical to now potentially criminal.”

She could not, she said, “in good or legal conscience continue to be perceived as a participant in these activities,” and ended with, “I hope soon the Board can somehow recover from its current dysfunction to once again become an entity that serves the students of this District.”

This month, two Polson parents who believe the administration and school board are spending too much time on issues other than providing a quality education took an unusual step.

Mark and Lori Russell publicly announced they would refuse to allow their children to participate in Criterion Reference Testing to protest what they saw as a lack of support and resources from the administration and school board for the educational needs of the district’s students.

The district’s funding is based on student participation in the tests, and it has ramifications for complying with the No Child Left Behind Act.

“In review of the agendas of the Polson School Board we have discovered a serious absence of items reflecting their mission of educating children,” the Russells wrote in an open letter to other parents in the district. “When the Polson School District provides the teachers with the support and resources needed to educate each child in the district, we will provide our children to be tested.”


Mark Russell said Tuesday that they had held their middle school-aged son out of his testing earlier this month.

But he said that following a productive meeting with Whitesell last week, he and his wife were allowing their fourth-grade son to take his tests this week.

Russell said a large group of parents has been upset by bullying and violence they say is taking place in Linderman School, which educates second- through fourth-graders.

Russell said the two-hour meeting with Whitesell was “very productive,” and focused on solutions, not the complaints.

If the board approves the voluntary resolution agreement Wednesday night, of course, Whitesell will not be around to see them through.

Among its 15 provisions is that in addition to the $120,000, Whitesell will be paid through March 20, and that all his accumulated sick and vacation leave will also be paid.

Whitesell’s resignation would be effective immediately, according to Carl Elliott, director of support services for the district.

Whitesell, who graduated from nearby Ronan High School, came to Polson from Twin Bridges, where he had been superintendent since 2001.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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