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Fairfield swears in new school board members

Susan Prasse

(12/8) Five new members and four returning members were sworn in at the Fairfield Area School District’s (FASD) December 7 meeting. Rebecca Bequette, Melissa Cavey, Kelly Mays, Greg Murray, and Ian Strahler all took the oath along with Pam Mikesell, Lonny Whitcomb, Marcy Van Metre, and Mickey Barlow as the new faces of the Fairfield Area School Board. During the annual reorganization meeting, the nine-member board also elected Pam Mikesell as their new school board president and Lonny Whitcomb as vice president.

The main topic at the reorganization meeting was to establish how the board would operate – whether by committee (as the past school board had done) or as a “committee of the whole” (meaning, the entire board considers all action and there are no committees).

Brooke Say, solicitor for Fairfield Area School District shared that she was partial to a “committee of a whole because many times committees are operating as separate sub-parts, particularly in a district as small as Fairfield, can easily swing to micro-managing employees of the school district as opposed to holding the superintendent accountable for what their responsibilities are.

Say also shared that in a very large district, sub-committees work well because they serve to facilitate larger conversations that come to the board for planning. However, she reiterated that in a school district of this size, and actually most of Adams and York County – boards operate as a committee of the whole and try to do most of their work in one or two working sessions per month. She further explained, “That is when deliberation takes place among the board, time where info is presented, questions are asked in advance and there’s a lot of unlimited time where the board can debate on issues.”

This practice leaves time for the administration to prepare - instead of multiple committee times, they can set the agenda in advance. The superintendent has plenty of notice about what goes on the agenda, where there may be problems or contention, and plenty of notice about another meeting that may be necessary. Split between two meetings per month, bill payments and hires could be discussed/deliberated a little earlier, Say said that the board wouldn’t require two meetings a month – but would give Superintendent Karen Kugler some leeway to advertise if another meeting was necessary.

Say further added that one of the benefits of doing a “committee of the whole”, and having only one voting meeting a month, meant that technically the board would only need a solicitor for one meeting, a definite cost savings to the district. In response, newly -elected board president Pam Mikesell said, “in past years however, we didn’t always need a solicitor even in our voting meetings.” Say responded that it was completely at their discretion. The new board then made the motion and unanimously voted to institute operating as a “committee of a whole.”

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