Blaine County Attorney Don Ranstrom has begun the process of charging Hays-Lodge Pole School Board Chair John F. Doney with several counts of official misconduct.
His actions come just a few weeks after the board shut down Lodge Pole Elementary School and moved the students to Hays-Lodge Pole High School in Hays.
Ranstrom filed a motion Monday morning, asking District Court Judge John McKeon for permission to file the actual charges, which would at least cause Doney to be suspended until a trial is held and would at most lead to Doney being fired, being fined hundreds of dollars and facing a possible but highly unlikely jail sentence.
The charges come from a number of complaints from Blaine County Superintendent of Schools Lisa Stroh, informed by both her own experience with Doney, whom she describes as a “tyrant, ” and by the calls, letters and emails she said she has received from Hays-Lodge Pole parents and teachers since Doney joined the board earlier this year.
The 13-page motion spells out seven specific incidents, in which Doney had allegedly moved and changed meetings without proper notice, refused to acknowledge a board appointee, sold district-owned land and buildings without following required procedure, and, according to Stroh, generally ignoring the law.
Stroh said Monday afternoon that the seven specifics listed in the motion are just the tip of the iceberg and that the county could have spelled out more than 100 complaints. She said she’s particularly upset, aside from the shutting down of the school in October, by the school removing the shop and art faculty.
These drastic changes have led to something of a panic among Hays-Lodge Pole parents, according to Stroh. More than 40 of the district’s nearly 230 students have left the district for Harlem or Dodson schools since the beginning of the year.
Doney, while on a walkthrough of the Hays high school while the staff moved from Lodge Pole last month, said that these changes were necessary to preserve the district. He said that previous boards had nearly run the district into the ground and depleted reserves and that the school would be broke by the end of the year. He said that federal impact aid funds were going to be gone before being replenished in January. That’s why he closed Lodge Pole elementary, sold the adjacent housing units and had Phil Shortman fire teachers, he said. Shortman has been superintendent, acting superintendent and high school principal at various times in recent months.
Doney’s six months on the board have been tumultuous. Most of the board resigned shortly after his appointment, which allowed him to become chair this past summer.
Stroh said she just wants “the atrocity” of Doney’s administration to end to allow Hays-Lodge Pole School District a return to normalcy.