Nepotism policy before school board remains bogged down in discussion

WINNEMUCCA — The Humboldt County School Board has voted to table the adoption of a nepotism policy until for further consideration could take place. The matter has been before the board at least three times, but there has yet to be consensus among the board members.

Trustee Ann Miller was not at the Tuesday (Sept. 27) meeting, and the board felt it important she be there to voice any concerns she may have before the vote was taken.

Nepotism is the favoritism shown to friends or relatives and usually occurs in the workplace. Although there’s not much the board can do about favoritism among friends, which is usually the greater problem, members of the district staff noted, a nepotism policy would address the issue of one relative supervising another and conducting performance evaluations.

Superintendent Mike Bumgartner presented similar policies adopted by districts across northern Nevada; though, there was some disagreement about how closely those policies were followed. The superintendent noted the importance of the district protecting itself from legal liability in advance of an actual problem.

He added with the possibility of merit pay in discussion, the need for a nepotism policy was imminent.

Trustee Andrew Hillyer observed there have not been complaints about nepotism to date and there doesn’t appear to be a problem.

He thought a solution could be found that did not involve breaking up teams that appear to be working well together.  He added the policy should give the board some flexibility in handling matters where one relative was supervising another – such as exists at Grass Valley Elementary School where the principal is married to a teacher.

The board went back and forth on the issue of who should evaluate the performance of those employees who are technically being supervised by a spouse or close relative.

As was noted, it would be unfair to the supervisor to be held accountable for entire school – except one teacher who was being evaluated by someone brought in for that purpose.  Additionally, the site administrator would best know about the daily performance of his or her teachers.

On the other hand, if teachers receive pay raises based on merit, problems could arise if he or she were being evaluated by a spouse who would benefit financially from a potential merit increase in pay.

That scenario is a hypothetical one as the decisions on merit pay have not been determined and may not happen.

The issue of nepotism is especially challenging for those in small, rural districts where there are few chances for advancement and  as happens in small towns, everyone seems related to everyone else.

The meeting was attended by staff members from Grass Valley Elementary School – who may be the first to be impacted if the nepotism policy is adopted and other steps aren’t taken to protect those relatives/spouses already in a supervisory role.

In addition to the immediate concerns, long-term implications of the policy were expressed by GVES teacher Dawn Lucas (shown above, left), who has ambitions of becoming an administrator someday — ambitions that could be complicated by a nepotism policy due to her many connections in the district.

Chelsea Mendiola (shown above, right), who expressed her ambition to become athletic director at Lowry High School someday, worried that a restrictive nepotism policy would send teachers originally from Humboldt County to other districts. Her opinion was it would be better to have policies that encouraged Humboldt County young people to return home and teach after college.

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