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Trust comes hard to board

District 192 School Board members say a lack of trust is making it difficult for them to work together.

At a Monday night retreat that was part board meeting, part group therapy session, board members talked about conflicts of personality or ideology that have cropped up since three new board members took office in January, and the way in which those clashes have sometimes made board work more challenging that it should be.

Monday's meeting was a continuation of an April 17 retreat at which board members pledged to work better together, but there was unanimous agreement this week that there is still plenty of room to improve.

"I don't think we have collaboration within the board," board member John Kampf said Monday. "I think there's some empty promises there."

Disagreement about Monday's retreat began even before the meeting. During a regular meeting earlier in the evening board members argued about whether the retreat should be televised. Board chair Bob Heman made a motion to keep the meeting off local cable television but that upset board members Tim Burke and Julie Singewald, who said the public should have access to the board's discussion.

Board members who supported turning off the cameras suggested it would allow freer discussion. The motion ultimately passed, 4-2.

Whether the lack of cameras allowed board members to be more open is unclear, but it was obvious trust was the issue most on board members' minds.

"We have to build trust," board member Julie McKnight said. "We haven't done anything to cause us to earn it. Nothing changed to make me trust an individual more than I did before."

Veronica Walter, who joined the board in January, said part of the problem is the fact three new board members are trying to find their place alongside three members with a lot of experience.

"Each one of us has got a very strong personality," Walter said. "I don't know if the veteran members are used to having people so eager out of the gate."

Kampf was more direct after the meeting, laying many of his concerns at Burke's feet. He said comments Burke made before he was elected lead many to believe the questions he has asked since taking office are driven more by a personal agenda than by genuine interest in learning more.

"For example, it's public knowledge he wants to remove the superintendent," Kampf said Tuesday. "I do believe that attitude kind of colors our view of why things are being done."

Kampf did also say he's been impressed by some of the things Burke has brought to the board.

"Tim has certainly exceeded my expectations of him as a board member," he said. "I'm very pleased with some of the things he's doing. He's certainly brought a freshness to the board.... He's caused us to examine ourselves, which is always a good thing."

Burke said he doesn't have a problem with any of his fellow board members, but he hasn't backed off of his claims the district would be better off without superintendent Brad Meeks.

"The other board members have concerns about me because they don't know where I'm coming from. If I'm maneuvering to make Meeks look bad and use that as a basis to get rid of him or if I have a legitimate concern," Burke said.

Burke said Monday he believes the comments he has made about Meeks have caused the superintendent to become defensive when Burke has sought out information. He put much of the burden for improved relationships on Meeks, suggesting the superintendent needed to "start acting professional and respect my position on the board" before things could get better.

Board members said Monday they plan to continue working on their relationships. All seemed to agree there is a ways to go.

"I think all of us just continue working at it," Kampf said. "That's the only thing we can do, and try and be as up front and open with each other as we possibly can. I think that will probably be the best thing we can do."

McKnight said she thinks the board will eventually work things out.

"You've gotta keep talking and you've gotta be open and I've seen that demonstrated," she said. "We're gonna give it a good shot."