It still seems likely that students in Williams County Public School District No. 8 will attend Williston High School next year, but that hasn’t stopped accusations of deceit and bad faith on both sides.
On Friday, District 8 board members again accused Joanna Baltes, president of the board of Williston Public School District No. 1, of not communicating with the board. Baltes, in turn accused Dawn Hollingsworth, District 8 board president, of misleading her board.
At issue was a motion passed by the District 1 board Friday that will allow District 8 high school students to enroll at Williston High School for the 2020-21 school year. The measure includes a requirement that the District 8 board work with District 1 on a plan for expanding Williston High School. It also requires both sides to keep students enrolled in subsequent years.
On Wednesday, when the District 8 board met, their members voted to continue talks, but they didn’t specifically address the conditions. Then, on Friday, a District 8 parent reached out asking why her student wasn’t allowed to enroll in for next year. That prompted a special meeting Friday evening.
At the meeting, Hollingsworth said she was surprised at what happened.
“This wasn’t a phone call I was expecting by any means, nor did we have any indication D8 had not done our part,” she said. “There was no phone call, no email, no text communications there were any issues in enrolling D8 students in (Williston High School).”
District 8 board member Sarah Williams said she didn’t have a problem with the board acknowledging the motion, but wasn’t sure why the District 8 board hadn’t been told what they needed to do. She also questioned an email Baltes had sent both boards earlier in the day explaining what the District 1 motion meant and what the District 8 board would have to do to move forward with students being enrolled at WHS.
“Why are we getting an email from the president that sounds like she said she was going to send on District 8 on Friday (May, 15, after the meeting where District 1 approved enrolling District 8 students) based off the direction on her board?” Williams asked.
Hollingsworth also said Baltes’ email required the District 8 board to send approved minutes to District 1 showing the board had acknowledged the motion.
“That was not motioned by the board, nor is that a board request,” Hollingsworth said.
In the email, Baltes explained the conditions the District 1 board had OK’d.
“I understand that in your Special Board Meeting on 5/20 your Board voted to ‘Rescind Motion Regarding Joint Meetings with D1 Going Forward,’” Baltes wrote. “We certainly appreciate that you would like to move forward with discussions as evidenced by the very productive meeting that followed on 5/20 with Paul Stremick, and we look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead. But to ensure that your HS students can enroll, please send us the minutes of your next board meeting indicating Board approval of all three items in Ms. Wheeler’s amendment.”
In an email Baltes sent to both boards after the meeting Friday, she wrote her request for minutes had been a suggestion, not a demand.
“I certainly did not intend for my request of your minutes to be seen as another step we were asking you to take — it just seemed the easiest way to move enrollment forward,” she wrote.
Baltes also wrote she was upset with Hollingsworth’s actions.
“I was absolutely astounded by the discussion amongst your board regarding a supposed lack of communication by me to your board president,” Baltes wrote. “She was correct that I had not reached out to her before she called me on Monday night. The fact that she didn’t inform you of our conversation is unbelievably frustrating and does not seem to indicate a desire for us to truly work together.”
Baltes wrote that she and Hollingsworth spoke Monday, May 18, about a joint work session between the boards to go over a recent report about the financial impact of dissolving or reorganizing District 8. During the conversation, she asked whether the District 8 board was going to rescind its motion to suspend discussions with District 1.
Hollingsworth said the board planned to do so Friday, and Baltes asked whether the board would address the conditions the District 1 board had voted on.
“She told me in no uncertain terms that I was incorrect in understanding my board’s amendment from Friday and that rescinding the Thursday night motion would suffice,” Baltes wrote. “She then demanded that I send the meeting minutes to her and Sherri. I again explained that the amendment included three points and that the D8 board needed to agree to all of them before we could enroll high school students.”
After Friday’s meeting, Hollingsworth told the Williston Herald that Baltes had not explained the conditions District 1 had voted on. Instead, Hollingsworth said, she had been demanding.
Baltes has been on the receiving end of criticism by the District 8 board several times.
During the meeting where District 8 board members voted to suspend discussions with District 1, several District 8 members said it didn’t seem likely a deal would be reached while Baltes remained as board president.
She has already announced that she plans to resign in July.
In her email Friday, Baltes wrote she had been trying to calm tensions, not make the situation worse.
“I would implore everyone on both boards to not jump to conclusions and assume the worst about each boards’ intentions,” she wrote. “I and the rest of the D1 board stand ready to continue discussions with District 8.”