End of the line near for Fort Frye board member
In his nearly four decades on the Fort Frye Local Board of Education, David White has drawn great amounts of both praise and criticism.
But last week, he did not draw enough votes for four more years on the board.
White came in last in a four-person race for three seats, and he believes a controversy from a few years ago played a role in the outcome. But the 70-year-old Lower Salem resident who’s seen by some as a dedicated supporter of the district and others as a micromanager in school affairs said he couldn’t think of anything during his tenure he really would have done differently.
“I took an oath to do the job (to) the best of my ability,” White said Monday. “If I see an employee doing something wrong, then I get ahold of the superintendent, and I also tell the board.
“I got more involved in a lot of things than I probably should, but I just felt committed,” he said.
White stands by his decision to call for and vote, with two other board members, in favor of the non-renewal of the contract of Superintendent Matt Dill in 2010, a year before the contract was up.
Dill faced criticism from board members over his communication with them and mistakes he’d made that resulted in additional expenses. Some residents were calling for his resignation, while some employees and community members supported him. The board’s vote caught many people off-guard, leading to criticism not only of the decision but the way it was handled.
“It was the right thing to do,” White said, citing a poor working relationship between the board and Dill as one of the factors in his decision. “I’ll never think anything other than that. It’s too bad.”
Still, White doesn’t doubt it played a role in his defeat in last week’s election.
“It surely did,” he said.
Around the same time, White came under fire for having a district credit card, which he used to cover expenses at school board conventions. The board ultimately voted to take the card from him, but White said he never used it inappropriately and no one found evidence to the contrary.
“They couldn’t find where I had misused one penny,” he said. “I wouldn’t have misused that for (anything).”
White’s close scrutiny of the district’s operations at times drew claims of micromanagement but won him applause as well. In 2011, he attended an auction of equipment and fixtures at a school that had just constructed a new building and paid more than $8,700, for which he was reimbursed, to purchase doors, desks and more for Fort Frye, resulting in an estimated savings of $60,000 to the district.
White said he did that at board members’ requests and only after the board voted to allow it.
“They had to pass a motion in order for me to have the authority to go do this,” he said.
White was recognized by the Ohio School Boards Association in 1995 with an award for his service.
But to Coal Run resident R.B. Morris, the time had come for White to go.
“He’s been in there too many years, and he’s lost touch with the people he’s supposed to represent in the Lower Salem area,” Morris said.
Bob McIntyre lives just outside the district borders near Lowell, but he owns property in the district and came to White’s defense during the controversy over Dill. While he said he didn’t always agree with White on everything, he never doubted his motivation.
“He was for the kids. He wasn’t for himself,” McIntyre said.
White first ran for the board in the 1970s at the suggestion of Ralph Knowlton, a friend of his who moved from the Fort Frye board to the countywide board.
After being elected, White said he “didn’t hardly know anything and then I got in with OSBA and I started reading the law book and the rules, and it just escalated from there.”
White said he tries to keep abreast of the latest law and rule changes to make sure the board is conducting its business legally, particularly when it comes to open meetings.
“If you make a mistake and somebody files a complaint, then anything you did in that motion is null and void,” he said.
Lloyd Booth, one of the two new members elected to the board last week, recently paid White a visit, and White gave Booth his law books.
“I told him when you read it front to back, you’ll get an education,” White said.
Booth, of Whipple, said he appreciated the gesture from White, with whom he’s been friends for years.
“We had a nice conversation the day after the election,” he said. “I stopped by to thank him for all the years he’d served.”
One of the most troubling trends in public education White said he’s seen in his years on the board is an increase in mandates handed down from the state and federal government, without the money to carry them out.
“Then we have to go back to the public, because they don’t have the money,” he said.
With only two regular meetings left in the calendar year, White said he does not have a specific policy goal in mind to accomplish before he completes his term.
“I want to have a sit-down talk with the superintendent,” he said. “There’s some issues that need resolved, and I’ll just share them with her and let her take care of those.”
White declined to elaborate on those issues.
He said the district is in good hands administratively with Superintendent Stephanie Starcher at the helm.
“She’s got more energy than I think I’d ever have,” he said.
White said he gets along with most of his fellow board members, although he has issues with how some, who he would not name, operate with regard to the rules. If he can help the board in any way going forward, White said he’s willing to do so.
The only other time White lost an election to the school board was in the 1980s. He was reappointed to the seat a few months later after a new member stepped down.
White has already been asked if he will run for the board again in two years or be willing to serve if a vacancy opened on the board. He’s not decided one way or the other.
“We’ll have to look at it at that point,” he said.
White said he won’t be disappearing completely from board meetings, even if he won’t be behind the table with the other members.
“I plan on attending the board meetings,” he said. “I’m still a part of the community.”