BULLHEAD CITY — Thursday night’s Bullhead City school board meeting came to an abrupt end shortly after it began.
“Defamation of character at the beginning of a meeting doesn’t leave you of clear mind to make decisions for the children in your district,” Board President Diane Beardsley said shortly after unilaterally adjourning the meeting.
Beardsley’s action took place after member Kory Burgess, during call to the public, questioned whether Beardsley should serve on the board, in light of what he called her failure to pay a debt to the Colorado River Union High School District.
He said that Beardsley, a former CRUHSD employee, is contractually obligated to pay back $6,337 the high school district spent on her master’s classes. He said that she signed a contract pledging to do so should she voluntarily leave the CRUHSD within two years of being reimbursed for the classes.
“She has failed to hold up her end of the contract and cheated taxpayers out of thousands of dollars,” Burgess said at the podium.
Beardsley addressed the meeting next, saying that she did not leave her position voluntarily, but had received a letter from then-Supt. Riley Frei, saying that the grant that paid for her position as Gear Up coordinator at Mohave High School was expiring and that the district would not be able to continue to operate the program.
“Therefore,” the letter states. “you will not be receiving a contract for the 2017-2018 school year.”
The CRUHSD governing board, Beardsley said after the meeting, later voted that she was not responsible for repaying the money.
Burgess disputed that was what the June 2018 vote meant. The agenda item read “authorize the superintendent to negotiate educational reimbursement payments, and to initiate a lawsuit if necessary, against former district employee Diane Beardsley to recover educational reimbursement payments and any associated costs and fees.”
A motion to that affect failed, 3-2.
“That means they (the board) voted not to authorize the superintendent to do that,” Burgess said. “It says nowhere in there that she doesn’t owe the money.”
Burgess also disputed Beardsley’s interpretation of the letter from Frei, saying that the high school district still could have offered her another position.
Beardsley said that language in the contract said that she wasn’t required to pay the money back if her position was “eliminated in order to effectuate economies in the operation of the district.”
Burgess said that Beardsley’s resignation in April (she received the letter from Frei in March), made her departure voluntary.
He said that when he and Beardsley don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue “she tries to shut my conversation down.” He said that at a previous meeting, Beardsley accused him of having a conflict of interest concerning shared services agreements between the CRUHSD and the Bullhead City Elementary School District. Burgess teaches U.S. history at Mohave.
There was an item on the meeting’s agenda titled “conflict of interest.”
It and other items, including updates to the shared services agreements, a vote on potential Arizona School Boards Association bylaw changes and accepting the BCESD’s annual financial report, probably will be rolled over to the November meeting, Supt. Carolyn Stewart said.
She said she placed the conflict of interest item on the agenda at the request of either Beardsley or Burgess.
“I had no clue that was going to happen,” Stewart said of the quarrel from the podium.
Beardsley called Burgess’ behavior “immature, inappropriate and unprofessional,” and stood behind her decision to adjourn the meeting, saying that his actions kept her from being able to immediately make sound decisions on important matters.
“I’m not going to make judgment calls after being defamed,” Beardsley said.
Board member Geni Borland later weighed in on the dispute, criticizing Burgess’ behavior.
“As a board member of the elementary district, Mr. Burgess should have the best interest of us financially and educationally,” she said. “Kory’s behavior tonight shows exactly that he does not have the best interest of our district, but rather what is in the best interest of the high school, his current employer, based on his attacks (on) a fellow board member. This type of behavior is bullying at its best, not to mention defamation of our president’s character.”