Under Bad Leadership, Everything Becomes Political: The True Story of the Seating Explosion

Social media has taken up a discussion of the fight Mrs. Steenson chose to pick with me (Sept 3 meeting) over seating at the board room table, so here is what happened in more detail.

What Happened

At the August 27th school board meeting, I arrived to find my seat at the end of the boardroom table.  I asked Mr. Spero if he wouldn’t mind changing seats with me as I was uncomfortable at the end of the table. He most graciously agreed, though he expressed concern that Nancy would not be happy about it. Nancy was absent for that meeting.  Mr. Bealo chaired and we had an exceptionally productive meeting with a most positive tone. Many who saw the meeting that evening remarked to me that Mr. Bealo ran a very professional meeting.

Why did I ask to change seats?  In truth, I find my posture not the best when re-watching the meetings and I feel a gentleman is more suited to being captured from the side during long meetings. I explained this to Mr. Spero.

On Sept. 3 there was a Policy Committee meeting at 5:30 pm in the small meeting room beside the SAU boardroom.  This ended around 6:45 – I don’t remember the exact time – but because of being there for this meeting, I was quite early for the school board meeting which starts at 7:30 p.m.

When I took my seat at the boardroom table, I sat in the same chair I had previously arranged with Mr. Spero, and switched the name plates to so reflect this. Nancy Steenson asked me to sit where she had put me. I calmly but firmly said that I was not moving.  She didn’t ask me why, she simply insisted I move because Mr. Spero, being a new member, should not sit at the end.  That was her full rationale.

When I was firm, she said, “This is why no one likes you.”  I shot back with, “This is why you are a poor chairman.”

I’m not sure of the order of events but she moved the name plates back herself.  I suggested she call the police.  She left the room in a fury saying she just might do that.

When she returned, more of the members were presented and seated, though not Mr. Spero.  Mrs. Steenson asked Mr. Sapia to sit at the end seat.  He did not move either. Mr. Spero arrived quite late to the meeting and had no idea what had transpired in his absence.  He sat at the end of the table and did not seem to suffer any harm from it.

Why It Happened

Under bad leadership, everything becomes a political struggle.  Seating at board tables is normally based on years of service on the board; however, only the chairman and vice-chairman have formally designated seats in most boards that I’m familiar with (and  have sat on a few boards prior to this one).

At our board, seating, like our minutes, has become highly political as evidenced by Mr. Sapia’s front and center seat though he is a relatively new member to the board and has less service than I. Mrs. Steenson picks her favorites and places them to her advantage. She would seat me in the parking lot if she possibly could. Timberlane has no stated policy and I always believed Nancy Loiselle (formerly Danahy) determined the seating when she put out the name plates because that is what she told me once.

Mr. Collins’ explanation on Facebook (Friends of Education at Timberlane) that new members are placed between more experienced members as a practice is completely unsubstantiated and makes no sense on the face of it because there is no talking during meetings. Do you ever see Mrs. Steenson talking privately to Mr. Sapia during meetings?  Of course not.  There is no talking among ourselves at meetings except on rare occasions and for fleetingly brief moments.

Mrs. Steenson’s move to put me on the end was a power play and I was not going to put up with it. Shouldn’t it be enough for a board member to say they do not want to sit somewhere for that to be respected? Her response was extreme and beyond anything sensible.

My stubbornness may seem petty, but I am not about to compromise my comfort at meetings for Mrs. Steenson’s ego. If truth be told, the superintendent should be sitting at the end of the table because it is a board meeting — not a meeting of the board with the administration, which is what it seems more often than not.

A creative problem solver suggested we all draw names out of a hat for our seats.  When there is a complete breakdown of rules and respect, it is sad to say, this is the best solution to the seating drama.

How have the rules broken down, you ask?  The disrespectful discourse Mrs. Steenson permits and seeming encourages from the administration on down has infected our meetings to such an extent that it is becoming an obstacle to getting business done. Others have shown themselves able to conduct a professional meeting. Mrs. Steenson should resign as chairman for the good of the district.

Here’s just one clip from the  Sept 3 school board meeting.

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8 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

8 responses to “Under Bad Leadership, Everything Becomes Political: The True Story of the Seating Explosion

  1. This is priceless! Just keep edging your way to her seat, meeting by meeting, and watch the reaction.

    I must say, your firm reply would not have been my first choice. I’d have told her to “stuff it!”.

    How you tolerate that circus, week after week, is a true testament to an iron stomach.

  2. Samuel Champey

    Donna,
    This most recent board meeting solidifies for me the ineptitude of Mrs Steenson as chair. For a great many years, my mother served on this very board, and for a time chaired the board, and in all of our time following the board and its events, we’ve NEVER, seen such a display of disrespect not only to a board member, but to the integrity of the board itself perpetrated in particular by the chair and the superintendent. It truly makes my mother and I sick to our stomachs to see this bi-weekly circus act transpire, and afferms the need for a shakeup in the leadership of this board. Though I may not always agree with some of the things you bring to the table, I commend you for standing up for yourself, and hope you continue to fight the good fight!

  3. Erich Beyrent

    You claim that Nancy’s ego is what drove this confrontation, and yet write:

    “In truth, I find my posture not the best when re-watching the meetings and I feel a gentleman is more suited to being captured from the side during long meetings.”

    Let’s be honest Donna, this is 100% about YOUR ego, no one else’s.

    You’re so ineffective a representative that you have to spark confrontations about where you park yourself during meetings in order to get attention. I’ve see that behavior before in 3 year old children. What’s worse is that boorish behavior like this makes it less likely the board will work with you, less likely your good ideas will be heard (yes, you do have some good ideas).

    How did you represent Sandown that night? How did you represent our interests? How did you serve the students, their parents, and their community?

    The answer is: you didn’t. You served yourself.

    • I’m not tolerating workplace bulling which is what was going on. If you think I do that to get attention, then I can expect you not to stand up for yourself under similar circumstances if the people of Sandown entrust you with elected office. That does not bode well for your ability to fight for their interests, either, in my opinion.
      Readers note: Mr. Beyrent ran unsuccessfully against me in the last school board election.

      • Erich Beyrent

        I choose to stand up for Sandown and the issues that are affecting taxpayers and students, not just in our town, but the entire district. I could care less what chair I sit in, and I could care less how I look in the camera.

        As one of your constituents, I urge you to do the same.

  4. Plaistow

    I read your emails daily and at first I found them to be very informative and worth my time. Lately I find them to be very childish. I understand you do not get along with a lot of the board members and I don’t blame you for that. I do feel like you have great ideas but the problem is everyone is going to stop listening If you keep up these negative emails. I really don’t care were you sit at the table as long as your able to voice your opinion and be heard. Sometimes just taking a step back will show the true colors of others and maybe that is what you need to do. Put on a smile and present your opinions and stop being angry and argumentative and I think you voice will be heard and we will all be better off. This board is a joke but you are getting pulled down with it. Sorry to say!

    • Thank you for your comment. I always told my children that constructive criticism shows respect for the other person because you wouldn’t bother it you thought the other party was hopeless or worse. So, truly, thank you for writing.

      But another pearl of wisdom comes to my mind, too: Walk a mile in my shoes.

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