St. Regis citizens will present a petition of no confidence to the local school board and its first-year superintendent at the board’s monthly meeting Wednesday night.
“It’s sort of a public opinion survey as to people’s opinion of the fiscal accountability of the St. Regis school district, the way they’re spending the taxpayers’ money,” said Marlene Durland.
Durland is one of the initiators of the petition and a friend of Principal Tammy Demien, who was placed on administrative leave by Superintendent Janet Hanson in August and remains there.
A report of an investigation by the Montana School Boards Association was released on Nov. 2.
“The matter has been concluded and (Demien) remains on administrative leave,” school board chair Shelly Dunlap said Tuesday.
Demien’s Missoula attorney, Lance Jasper, said a complaint his office has filed against Hanson and the board is in the administrative process and is currently in front of the board.
Jasper added he’s played no part in the petition drive.
“I was unaware of it but not surprised,” he said.
The petition doesn’t mention Demien by name but says the board will spend some $100,000 in taxpayer money by placing district employees on paid administrative leave and paying staff members to assume their duties.
Sharon Patterson, who wrote the text of the petition with Durland, said the $100,000 figure was arrived at in part by estimating Demien’s salary and benefits from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, based on past principals’ pay.
She said the reported $1,500 a month the district is paying each of the staff members who’ve taken on additional duties in Demien’s absence is included, as well as the custodian’s salary and replacement pay.
“The more I figure it, it’s going to be more than $100,000,” Patterson said Tuesday.
The petition, addressed to the Board of Trustees of St. Regis School District 1 and Hanson, maintains that the actions of placing employees on administrative leave have resulted in expenditures that have “no positive benefit to the students, staff or the community. This $100,000 has been taken away from educating our young people.”
It continues: “This action is to further express that through our right to vote your actions are jeopardizing future funding of St. Regis School District and also your re-election to the board of trustees.”
Durland estimated the number of signatures on various petitions around the small Mineral County town is “probably getting close to 85 or 90.”
“That’s not nearly as many as we would have hoped for, but St. Regis has a large population of retirees that I guess don’t want to fight these battles any more,” said Durland, a retiree herself.
Others may have association with school board members and “don’t want to jeopardize cohesiveness of the community,” she said.
A handful of businesses agreed to post the petition, but others refused.
Dunlap said she’s heard the number of signatures gathered was “somewhere around 68.”
“I think it’s signed by a very small portion of the electorate. Less than 10 percent have signed it,” she said.
She wasn’t certain how many registered voters are in the St. Regis School District, but 142 votes were cast in a successful general fund levy election last May.
The petition is “based in large part on misinformation, at least as far as where they’re getting their numbers from,” Dunlap said. “I’m not exactly sure what they’re using to come up with those figures.”
The drive has drawn attention to Demien’s situation from those who weren’t otherwise aware of it, said Floyd Brady, a retiree who has no connection with the St. Regis School District.
“Somebody out there has got to put pressure on these folks,” Brady said. “They should come out and let the people know what’s going on. I don’t care to know the gory details, but is (Demien) going to keep her job?”
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at email@example.com.