PCSD Superintendent Thanksgiving Letter Draws Heat
A letter sent to parents in the Park City School District has prompted some to cry foul for inappropriate endorsement of a school board election where three seats are on the ballot. While two of the seats are uncontested, a controversial campaign to unseat the existing board president has been lodged by a write in candidate.
After receiving Park City School District Superintendent Jill Gildea’s letter on Monday, Park City resident and parent of two children in the district, Melissa McKenna, told KPCW she believes the letter is inappropriate because it highlights the school board’s approval of a contract that gave salary increases to teachers and staff in September.
“It’s just weird. She is talking about Thanksgiving and being thankful. I had said in my letter to her and to the school board, if this letter had been received, you know, a week before or the week of Thanksgiving it could have been perceived as genuine but the letter going out the day before Election Day seems to have a different tone or intent. She specifically mentions in there, thankful that the school board gave teachers raises and you’re just reminding the public the day before election. I mean that's essentially the reason Thomas Cooke decided to run. It’s because they threatened to not give raises if teachers were not quiet."
The August 24th School Board letter to teachers can be found here:
McKenna further questions the credibility of the intent because no COVID updates were mentioned in the Superintendent’s letter dated November 1.
“She said it was her monthly newsletter. But it was her monthly newsletter updating, but she never mentioned COVID, the current situation, or the fact that the community had moved to a high level of transmission. She never mentioned any of those things which I found to be really weird if this is a monthly newsletter. She only gave a list of like what she's thankful for and said it was a Thanksgiving letter. It just seems the timing was off.”
Superintendent Gildea responded to KPCW in writing saying it is customary for superintendents to send monthly newsletters and that it is usually done the first of each month. She says her intent was to highlight thankfulness for the efforts of the district students, staff, teachers and board of education. She declined an interview with KPCW.
Thomas Cooke challenged Board President Andrew Caplan for seat 2, but in preliminary counts as of this report has lost that race.
“Yeah, I'm aware of the letter and I've read the letter from November 1st and it seems odd to me, the timing you know. When the letter opens, we only have a few more days until Thanksgiving but Thanksgiving is three weeks away. It seems a little odd two days before the election to me. It just seems odd but the whole thing seems odd to me. That's why I'm running."
Former Park City School Board President Tania Knauer says it is irregular for a superintendent to declare support for school board members who are running for office. She believes it is up to the voters, not administrators, to pick who they want to support them on the school board.
“I actually did not see the letter because I was out of town and I had multiple people sending it to me and asking me what I thought about it because they were concerned that not only board members but now our Superintendent looks like they're coming out in support of a particular candidate in a contested race.”
Knauer says during her four years on the board, she can say for certain the previous superintendent never endorsed candidates running for school board.
“I think with 100% certainty I can say that she did not. She was very careful about maintaining neutrality because she knew that she always would have to work with whatever board members and you know any board over the tenure of the Superintendent is going to have people coming and going and so you want to maintain neutrality and not really be looking like you're on any one side or another.”
McKenna sent a formal complaint about Gildea’s letter to the Utah State Board of Education. The state board referred it to the Internal Audit Department where a review will be done by the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Council, for consideration of investigation.
A copy of Gildea’s letter can be found on KPCW.org