Sisters address BIC School Board on FOI request

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Pat Qualls addressed the BIC School Board requesting answers about the lack of response on requests under the FOIA.

Pat Qualls and Ruth Cullum, sisters of John Steele of Monette, addressed the Buffalo Island Central School Board on Monday, Aug. 10. They each questioned the lack of response from the District's Attorney for FOI (Freedom of Information) requested by Mr. Steele.

Qualls thanked the board for allowing her to bring them up to date since she spoke at the last board meeting. She read from a prepared statement.

"When I spoke to you July 13, I read John Steele's response to your lawyer's letter dated July 8, 2015, accusing him of harassing and threatening behavior and banning him from campus," Qualls said.

She quoted a statement from the letter sent by attorney Donn Mixon, informing Steele to make any further requests through his office and they would process them.

Qualls said her brother had made three requests under the FOIA and has received no response. Included in the requests were copies of public record of the Buffalo Island School, concerning the allegations against him; the names and addresses of law enforcement agencies the school provided information to; and the names of persons present when each of the allegations occurred; minutes and all documents reviewed or submitted from the July 13, 2015, BIC School Board meeting; requests of the June 2015 budget report.

Qualls said to date none of the requests have been answered.

"On a different subject, to conclude, let me pose a question many citizens are wanting answered," Qualls said. Quoting from the Feb. 24, 2015, board minutes, "Mr. Hughes reported that the additional .009 mills and the extension of the existing .008 mills through 2045 would generate $11,115,000."

She quoted from the June board minutes a motion passed to go to the patrons on Jan. 12, 2016, and seek a .007 mill increase to build a K-6 elementary on the Leachville campus and 7-12 building on the Monette campus.

By lowering to .007 mills the auditorium would be eliminated.

"In your first two failed millage votes you asked for .009 mills plus the extension of the existing .008 mills," she said. "In the 2016 vote, are you asking for .007 mills plus the extension of the existing .008 mills?"

Superintendent Gaylon Taylor said the amount of mills is not certain at this time.

"We will have to look at it in October to see what the money will generate," he said. "It may be be .008 mills. We don't know what the money will earn until then."

Taylor said Donn Mixon is hired to represent the district. It will be up to Mixon to respond to the FOI requests.

Mr. Steele's sister, Ruth Cullum, said her brother did talk to Mr. Mixon and he was told he was working on it.

Ms. Cullum went on to say she and Ms. Qualls addressed the board a month ago asking for answers to Steele's letter, he submitted, asking why he was banned from the BIC campus.

"To date there has been no response from Mr. Taylor, the BIC board, or Mr. Mixon," Cullum said. "John has complied with the school's request to submit all questions and FOI requests to the school attorney, but has not received a response. The standard response time for an FOI request to be answered is three business days but no longer than 20 business days. Today marks the 20th business day since John exercised his citizen's right through the FOI and did so in compliance with the way in which Mr. Taylor and the board instructed, which is through Attorney Mixon. Silence seems to be the operative word, while rumors in the community continue and tempers flare. Is this what you all want?"

Cullum asked if anyone was going to give them answers.

"By your silence, you all but tell us you do not want to hear what we have to say," Cullum said.

She asked if the board had any intentions of rescinding the ban on her brother, John.

Taylor said they are represented by their attorney and can't have two parties speaking on the issue.

"The response has to come from Mr. Mixon," Taylor said. "This is not a board action. I can address this in a personal matter with you but not in front of the media."

Cullum asked if her brother could be included in the meeting. "If you accuse someone, tell them so they have the opportunity to tell their side. Let's not talk around him, let's talk to him," Cullum said.

Taylor said he would ask the attorney.

"You ladies are very respected in the community," Taylor said. "I am here to do what is best for the kids. I have nothing against the Steele family."

The women left copies of emails their brother had sent to the district's attorney requesting information.

Following the open discussion, the meeting continued with Marshall Hughes with Beardsley Public Finance submitting paper work for the lease/purchase of a school bus and truck for a total of $101,052 to be paid by a $13,451 payment twice a year for four years.

Taylor commended the faculty, technology people and board members for good things happening in the district.

"We knew we had a void in technology and we have tried to crunch every dollar to make an investment in technology for our students," Taylor said. "In the last two years we have gone wireless in all four buildings. It works better in some buildings than others. We have purchased 420 Chromebooks; 50 Window laptops; 40 IPads; 13 Kendals; and we had a grant for 25 MacBooks. The west campus took the money they received and invested it in technology."

Taylor recommended leasing 95 MacBook Air tablets. The board voted unanimously in favor of leasing the MacBook Airs using some of the farm income over the next three years.

This will make a total of 643 devices in the hands of the BIC students.

"Our job is to provide the best education for our kids," Taylor said.

The board voted to hire Beth Pitts for study hall teacher in the junior and senior high. Bus drivers hired included Frankie Turner (shuttle bus driver), Jimmy Fraser (driver to vo-tech), Robbie Shirley and Jered Fires.

The board also raised the shuttle bus drivers pay to $2,670/178 day contract.

In other business board members reviewed the financial report, were updated on the repairs and painting of the buildings, the repair of the awning on the Leachville campus. Taylor said it is looking good and all of the painting and floor covering should be completed by the first day of school.

Bread and milk bids were accepted from Bimbo Bakery and Turner Dairy.

The September meeting was moved to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, when the board will review the proposed budget.

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