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Procedural whoopsies pile up in West Valley

| February 18, 2024 12:00 AM

Oops! West Valley School District’s board of trustees has done it again.

The district was the victim of a self-inflicted “procedural glitch” for the second time in a year after it selected a new superintendent last week without first properly notifying the public in advance of its vote.

The board unanimously voted to hire West Valley Interim Superintendent Richard Gross at a Feb. 6 hiring committee meeting that happened to include the full board’s participation. After the meeting, the board chair called Gross to offer the position, which he said he accepted, pending approval of a contract.

But the hiring committee meeting notice only stated that interviews would be conducted. It did not include information that the board would take formal action.

It’s understandable that the board felt good about offering the top job to its preferred candidate and wanted to get the deal done as soon as possible, but Montanans are afforded the “right of participation” in the state constitution. Part 2, section 8 states that “the public has the right to expect governmental agencies to afford such reasonable opportunity for citizen participation in the operation of the agencies prior to the final decision as may be provided by law.”

This is a vital right that must not be brushed aside as a pesky “procedural” task. Overlooking the right to participation in the decision-making process of government cuts the public out of the public process. 

West Valley residents deserve a fair opportunity to share their thoughts with the board, particularly on matters of such importance as the selection of the next superintendent.

The board ultimately did the right thing and held a special meeting where the vote was retaken. 

Yet, it must be noted that last week’s blunder wasn’t the first whoopsie for the West Valley board. Just last April the district’s levy request was called off after the school board missed a critical filing deadline — but not before ballots were delivered to area mailboxes. The canceled election caused mass confusion and cost the district roughly $3,183 in printing and mailing fees — and much more in public trust.

Regrettably, the board is back to rebuilding that trust after last week’s procedural oversight.

The West Valley area is too important of a district for these slip-ups to keep happening. More than 750 students are enrolled in the elementary district, placing it among the largest in the state. The families in this burgeoning area deserve a school board that can be counted on to navigate basic public participation processes, and operate above board on all fronts.