A board member and the district superintendent provided some pre-July 4 fireworks during the most recent meeting of the Columbia Community Unit School District 4 Board of Education.
Columbia School Board member Tammy Mitchell Hines criticized superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano following Thursday’s contentious meeting.
“The Columbia superintendent hired and supervised by the elected Board of Education has violated school board policy on multiple occasions,” Hines told the Republic-Times. “She also violated the Open Meetings Act. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and that responsibility includes following the law.”
The concerns Hines raised regarding the Open Meetings Act include the May meeting agenda. That agenda included an item labeled “personnel items” following an executive session.
Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis said that could be a violation of the law because it does not provide sufficient clarity so the public could know what actions would take place with personnel.
The issues of board policy came up during the meeting, which saw extensive discussion.
The first such instance occurred when the board discussed the approval of a contract with Byrne & Jones Construction to resurface the Columbia High School track.
The debate began when Hines asked if the district had a building permit for the project.
Segobiano said she thought a building permit was unnecessary because of the limited scope of work.
Hines then asked if the project needed a permit due to its cost being more than $50,000. Segobiano said the cost threshold Hines referenced was for bidding, not building permits.
“So you’re saying it is not needed if the project is over $50,000?” Hines asked.
“I am not sure,” Segobiano clarified. “I was led to believe if there’s no change or if electrical or mechanical is involved, there is no need for a building permit.”
She asked if Davis, who attended the meeting, knew the answer.
“Part 180 rules of the administrative code say anything over $50,000 requires a building permit even if it doesn’t impact one of those systems like you said – structural, electrical, plumbing or otherwise,” Davis explained.
Segobiano said she was not aware of this rule.
“This is new news to me or we would have had it covered,” she said.
A building permit is obtained by an architect or engineer approving and sealing construction documents. The district then submits paperwork to the regional superintendent, who decides whether to approve it.
Davis said building permits are necessary partly because they ensure the safety of the students since a trained individual must sign off on them.
“It’s a public building with our children in it,” Davis said of a school building. “It needs to meet the required safety standards.”
If the project was delayed longer than a few days, it may not have been completed until after the fall sports season because the football field cannot be used while resurfacing takes place.
The board decided to take the necessary steps to obtain the building permit, which Davis said he can expedite. It then held a special meeting Monday to approve the permit and a few other items.
At the special meeting, which was attended by board members Scott Middelkamp, John Long, Greg O’Connor and Randy Simmonds (Hines was absent), Segobiano said Byrne & Jones found it odd the district needed a building permit.
“Even our architect said this is more maintenance and repair and that’s how it’s looked at,” she said. “But if you have an ROE suit that looks at the $50,000 or above that means anything is going to need a building permit. But I’m not going to squabble. We’re just going to get it done.”
At the special meeting, the quorum of board members approved the application for a building permit for the track resurfacing pending acceptable plans and specifications submitted by a licensed architect.
Those plans were estimated to be finished within days.
While discussing the track project at the regular board meeting, Hines also questioned if the company the district planned to use for the project was a state contract, meaning the board would not have to seek bids for the work.
Segobiano said it is and that she got the recommendation from The Interlocal Purchasing System, a cooperative purchasing program that assists in lowering prices for schools through collective negotiation.
Davis said using TIPS does not exempt the district from being required to take bids on the project.
“My understanding here is the cooperative purchasing program isn’t exempt from the bidding requirements,” he said in an interview with the Republic-Times. “The state board would have had to approve TIPS contracts as state contracts.”
The bidding threshold differs based on the type of items and the type of work, Davis said.
At the special meeting, Segobiano said she was working to confirm the TIPS contract was a state contract to be on the safe side.
The threshold was not exceeded for another project the board approved, which involves the replacement of cabinets and countertops in a classroom at Columbia High School.
Hines inquired whether work had begun on the project. Some work had already taken place, such as cabinets being torn out.
Next, Hines questioned the legality of the work beginning before the board approved it.
Segobiano said authorizing this contract fell within her duties. She said if she had not, the project would have been delayed to the point where it would not have finished by the time school starts.
“Shouldn’t we call for a special meeting, though, when that happens?” Hines asked. “Because board policy 4:50 states the treasurer shall not pay the bills until after receiving the board order to pay the bills. Work shouldn’t be started; we shouldn’t enter into contracts prior to approval.”
“I wish I had more time,” Segobiano responded. “This was all time constraints.”
“Right, but it’s board policy,” Hines said. “What if we don’t approve it and you’ve already paid the $18,000 and it’s not approved?”
“If we weren’t going to approve it we should have spoken up a couple of months ago when this first came up in discussion,” board member Karen Anderson said.
“Well do you want to follow board policy?” Hines responded.
The board decided to discuss the issue further in executive session.
Earlier in the meeting, Hines also cited board policy 4:60, which requires all contracts to be approved by the board.
Davis said Hines was correct on the matter of the board approving contracts.
“The board has to approve all non-ordinary expenditures,” he explained. “Every one of them. So it doesn’t matter if it’s $5,000. If they’re going to engage in a contract, the board needs to approve it.”
At the special meeting, Segobiano further explained how time can pose a problem for projects like these.
“When you only meet once a month, you have to really use your best judgment on what’s best for the school district,” she said.
“If you wait until the third week and the timing’s not right, you could really lose out on some good situations, which is why the superintendent, as long as I’m authorized to make my best decisions, that’s why it’s supported. If you have to wait for every board member meeting to approve, it could be problematic.”
Davis said as superintendent, Segobiano can only authorize contracts approved by the school board.
“She has the authority to authorize contracts approved by the board,” Davis said. “Had there been delays, she should have started significantly sooner.”
The board eventually approved the work at the regular meeting.
Another issue reached a resolution. Segobiano reported the district has purchased a new recorder to record executive sessions.
It was recently discovered the old recorder had malfunctioned and many closed sessions were not recorded. The district has also listed which verbatim tapes are available.