Honey, not vinegar, attracts supporters

By

opinions

June 9, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Local school district officials could win some fans if they invited public input in regards to the petition they have filed in district court to review the will of Thomas H. Bowlus.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Robert Fairchild granted local citizens Jim Gilpin and Fred Works the right to present written testimony, but, per the school district’s request, denied them the opportunity to discuss the matter in court.
Taking into account the sensitivity of the matter — the Bowlus means many things to many people — school officials should ask the judge to invite Works and Gilpin to present their arguments in person.
The judge reasoned that Melissa Dugan, a Chanute attorney, who has been appointed as guardian ad litem, would represent the community in court. Dugan, however, said that role inherently presents a conflict because the community includes the school district and had no intention of presenting what may be conflicting opinions.
In essence this means outsiders are without representation.
That Gilpin and Works can give written testimony is better than nothing, but falls far short of what is needed to satisfy those who fear the school district may, some day, decide to quit their obligation to the fine arts center as dictated in the will of Mr. Bowlus.
If Judge Fairchild opens the door to the open-ended questions raised in the petition, including, can school board officials (1) step down as trustees of the Bowlus; (2) remove high school classes entirely from the Bowlus, and (3) stop payments for use of the Bowlus — will they walk through?
That’s the great, and unsettling, unknown.
What if Judge Fairchild rules the trustees, as they argue in their petition, have the right to use the Bowlus as they deem appropriate, and it’s used instead for a district wide preschool? Does that stay true to the wishes of Mr. Bowlus?
Why establish a trust if future generations can disregard its intentions?
Of particular concern is the school district’s request that the legal preparation and defense of its petition be paid for out of the Bowlus trust, money left by Mr. Bowlus and others to keep the building and its programs in operation.
Allowing the school district to use the trust’s funds to pay for its legal defense may cause potential donors to question whether to leave gifts to the Bowlus.
To date, legal expenses amount to $25,555, according to Jack Koehn, USD 257 superintendent of schools.
 
TO HELP foster better relations, the school board’s attorney should contact Judge Fairchild and say, “Hey, this is not going in a good direction. We welcome the public to join us in this discussion.”
No matter the judge’s ultimate decisions, that would be the win-win approach.

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