Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Colleen Kesterson

Two Teachers Hired - Open Secretarial Position Addressed

Swan Valley Elementary School Board Meeting


SWAN VALLEY - The Swan Valley Elementary School board accepted principal Chris Stout and his committee’s recommendation for new hires to fill the open third-fifth grade and junior high teaching positions for the 2017-2018 school year. They also voted to hire a secretary to replace Karen Anderson who retires in August and contract with Seeley Lake Elementary for the district clerk and business manager positions for one year at their meeting June 29.

Stout read three letters he received in reference to the hiring committee’s recommendation to employ Colleen Harrington as the SVE junior high teacher. Harrington is related to SVE board chair John Mercer. Two letters expressed the possibility of nepotism, showing favoritism for a family member.

One letter stated it was not a case of nepotism for two reasons: all applicants had an equal chance to apply for the job because it was posted on the Office of Public Instruction website and Mercer is not allowed to vote on the decision to hire Harrington.

A second letter voiced support for Harrington being hired. It said that she has roots and cares for the community. It stated that she is highly qualified because of her experience and participation in education.

The third letter expressed a concern that Harrington and Mercer would have too much influence at the school if Harrington was hired because of her relationship with the board chair. The letter went on to say that Harrington would make a good teacher but that Mercer should step down from the board otherwise the writer would be opposed to hiring Harrington.

“I don’t know what [the writer] means by power and control,” Harrington said. She told those present that she has had power and control in previous jobs and that she has marketable skills, so if she was looking for power and control she wouldn’t be applying at SVE. “I interact with [supervising teacher Susan Bracha] and Stout who are under the board. So I can’t collude with John in a corporate takeover.”

She said she has been in the valley for 27 years, loves it here and loves working with kids. “I went to graduate school so I could get a job here at SVE in the junior high. Power and control are not my issue and I think it would be a tragedy if John were forced off the board.”

Attendees voiced support for Harrington and Mercer. They agreed they were both assets to the community. One attendee said that the school would not see favoritism between the two. Board member James Boyd said, “It is difficult to keep a teacher because it is hard to live here. It is a plus that [Harrington] has lived here a long time and is established here.”

The board members voted unanimously to hire Harrington with Mercer abstaining as required by board policy.

Stout recommended Jamie Matthew for the position of third-fifth grade teacher. When asked how could Matthew be hired with no teaching degree or license Stout answered that there are steps that can be taken to obtain a provisional license. Matthew who has completed six semesters at Montana State University said that she is willing to complete the required plan of study within the required amount of time to obtain a teaching degree. The board voted unanimously to hire Matthew as the third through fifth grade teacher.

The board considered whether to offer the vacant secretarial position to one candidate or to separate it and offer it to two individuals. Stout presented the possibility of contracting with Seeley Lake Elementary School for the business manager/clerk portions. This would allow the new candidate to get up to speed with all the duties that the three jobs entail.

Mercer told those present that Anderson has held the position for 33 years and that the new candidate would have a lot to learn about the accounting duties of the job in a very short time. He said they would want the new individual to start in September when the school year begins.

Anderson responded that the state had a lot of resources and resource people to help get the required reports filed.

The board agreed with the audit suggestion that the secretary and clerk be separated because one receives monies and the clerk keeps the report on receipts and disbursements of all school funds. Mercer stressed it has never been a problem but is a fact to consider.

After considering how the legally required position of clerk would be paid if contracted to SLE, the board voted unanimously to contract with SLE for one year because they already have the expertise to handle the duties. The board agreed to pay not more than $12,500 or not less than $6,000 depending on the extent of the duties their employees cover.

The board agreed to post the position for the SVE secretary for $12 - 14 an hour with benefits depending on experience and duties assigned.

The next SVE board meeting is scheduled for July 26, 5 p.m. at the Swan Valley School.


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