Blaine County School District

Wood River High School students walk to school. 

HAILEY — Anger with Blaine County School District leadership has prompted a movement to remove the superintendent.

A petition to remove GwenCarol Holmes received more than 500 signatures and will likely be presented at the next school board meeting after more than 100 people attended a community forum June 3 in Hailey.

Parents and teachers described a system of corruption and lies atop the Blaine County School District and said Holmes has fostered a culture of intimidation and retaliation since she took the position in 2014.

Several teachers said they were afraid to file grievances with the district.

Holmes forces subordinates to lie for her and positions herself as an unimpugnable authoritarian, said Melanie Schrader, a teacher at Wood River Middle School.

“There’s a lack of trust. Our voices are not heard,” Schrader said at the meeting. “She has slowly created a system in which she is untouchable, and she can do whatever she wants.”

Those with issues should follow the official grievance process as approved by the school board, district spokeswoman Heather Crocker told the Times-News on Tuesday. The process, as described by Crocker, requires teachers to bring grievances to their superior — usually a principal — who then refers it to the superintendent.

But that process allows for retaliation or forces teachers to remain silent, Schrader said at the meeting.

District administrators bully those who raise issues, said Rebecca Martin, a teacher at Wood River Middle School. Her husband, Kelly Martin, was targeted for joining a union, and both were forced to resign from harassment, she said at the meeting. The district attempted to blacklist Kelly from future employment, she said.

“Our emotional well being, including our psyche, has been negatively affected over the grievance process,” Martin said.

Public input matters but board meetings are typically poorly attended, Trustee Ryan Degn told people at the meeting.

“I am not the lapdog of the school superintendent,” Degn said. “I have my own opinions, and I rely on the information I gather from you to form them.”

In a tense confrontation, Schrader stood up and said she contacted Degn and was ignored. District administrators instructed him not to respond to personnel issues, Degn said.

“Questionable ethics” and wasteful spending, such as excessive administrator salaries and unnecessary legal fees, are the basis of the petition to remove Holmes, said Will Gardenswartz, who organized the event.

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Administrator salaries went down slightly in the district’s 2019-20 budget, but lawyer fees could continue to increase as legal battles against the district mount.

In May, Shannon Maza, the district’s human resources director, filed a pair of tort claims against the district. Administrators attempted to silence her after her son and another student were propositioned for sex by a district staffer, she contends.

In April, two former students filed a civil rights lawsuit after administrators deleted an opinion poll that asked students and staff members questions about Holmes.

The petition could be submitted at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Gardenswartz said. While a unanimous vote needed to remove Holmes is unlikely, the intent is to raise support for anti-Holmes candidates in the November school board election, he said.

More than 100 community members attended the “crisis forum,” which can be watched in its entirety on YouTube, and included activists from local political groups I-Care and Put Kids First. Gardenswartz told attendees to “leave politics at the door.”

“This leadership is bad enough to unite us,” he said.

Gardenswartz, a marketing consultant, rallied support on Facebook under the alias Cynthia “The Black Swan” Cignero. He said he feared retaliation.

Crocker dismissed the group as dishonest.

“This group with their fake Facebook account has been effective in organizing people,” she told the Times-News.

Several state elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and County Commissioner Angenie McCleary attended the meeting exclusively to listen to complaints. None spoke publicly.

The obvious discontent is disappointing, but it’s not up to the state, Clow, chairman of the House Education Committee, told the Times-News later. Davis and McCleary did not respond to request for comments.

“I know this is one of the things you have to relate to when you have local control of boards, is the local community has to make decisions about how they want to resolve the matter,” he said.

Holmes did not respond to a request for an interview with the Times-News.


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