Report spells out conflicts on school boardDepending on your point of view, Farmington School board member Tim Burke is either a bully with an agenda or a servant of the people running into a brick wall as he tries to make the school district’s operations more transparent.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Depending on your point of view, Farmington School board member Tim Burke is either a bully with an agenda or a servant of the people running into a brick wall as he tries to make the school district’s operations more transparent.
Those are the images that come through in a more than 600-page document compiled as part of an investigation of Burke’s behavior on the board.
The school board voted Dec. 16 to censure Burke as a result of the investigation and to forward the report to the county attorney for possible criminal charges. The county attorney has declined to file charges.
In the full report, made available last week in electronic form, board members and district employees whose names have been removed for data privacy reasons accuse Burke of making burdensome requests for information, of criticizing district employees to employees in other districts and of disclosing confidential information discussed in closed board sessions.
The report includes a list more than a page long of requests Burke has made for information. In one case he asked Farmington High School principal Ben Kusch for three years of test data on the Friday before a Monday school board meeting.
For his part, Burke said district employees have regularly resisted his requests for information. He told investigator James Martin it is frustrating, having run for election on a platform of transparent government, to have employees “stonewall” when he asks for information.
Burke was a vocal critic of the school district and superintendent Brad Meeks before he was elected two years ago. Former board member Veronica Walter, who lost a reelection bid in November, told Martin she joined the board along with Burke and Julie Singewald with the intention of ousting a district employee whose name has been removed from the report.
Walter said she eventually realized it would be difficult to remove the employee and chose to focus instead on helping that employee succeed.
But Walter said Burke persisted, and said he suggested he could make working in the district unpleasant enough the employee would not want to stay.
Walter and Singewald eventually became vocal in their criticism of Burke. Walter led a discussion at an Oct. 11 calling Burke’s behavior into question and Singewald was a strong supporter of the investigation.
Singewald told Martin she believes Burke has created a hostile work environment for district employees, because animosity from his disputes with district leaders trickles down to other employees. She said in some discussions Burke has appeared to be looking for opportunities to embarrass employees.
But Burke said district employees have been paranoid in their dealings with him. He said he doesn’t always get the information he requests, and when he does the information is not always all there.
At least one current school board member knows what Burke is talking about. Current board chair Tera Lee, who won election in November, said she ran into many of the same problems getting information when she challenged the district on enrollment numbers over the summer. Lee told the investigator she’s seen e-mails sent to district employees instructing them not to share information with certain people.
Lee told Martin she believes Burke is the only board member who asks difficult questions, even if he doesn’t always ask them in the nicest way.
“Ms. Lee admitted ... that she believes Mr. Burke is a ‘jerk,’ that he is not nice and that he does not treat people well,” the report reads.
Burke admitted as much at the beginning of the investigation process, suggesting that the investigation would discover little other than the fact he is not the nicest guy.
The report is currently in the hands of Farmington’s city attorney for possible charges.