Brian Kvapil is guilty of something but not the trumped-up accusations his fellow Milton School Board members leveled against him at a special meeting Monday night.
Kvapil’s sin and the real reason for the 6-1 vote to censure him is that he had the audacity to oppose two referendums to build a new high school.
The timing of this vote—four weeks before the April 3 election, when Kvapil faces re-election—should be lost on no one.
Kvapil did more than lead the charge against the referendums. After the 2016 measure failed, he ran for school board and defeated former board President Jon Cruzan, one of the referendum’s promoters. Then, in the Feb. 20 primary, Kvapil poked the district’s eye again, becoming the top vote-getter.
The censure vote was ostensibly over an “incident” that transpired between Kvapil and a student council representative after a Feb. 12 school board meeting and in the presence of others, including a Gazette reporter. The district’s investigation found Kvapil admonished the student, Sean Harvatine, and accused him of being “rude” and a “hypocrite.” This being the worst thing that Kvapil did (he asserts he said “hypocritical”), it’s difficult to fathom how Kvapil’s behavior equates to bullying or being unethical, as the board found.
The district’s findings portray the disagreement between Kvapil and the student as unhinged. Some board members said they felt a need to approach the conversation to “attempt to calm the chaos,” while Technology Director Ed Snow stepped into the middle of it and reported he felt like he was “breaking up a bar fight.”
Meanwhile, the Gazette reporter at the meeting says he witnessed no hint of chaos, nor bar fight-like drama.
An audio recording of the “incident” captures bits and pieces of the disagreement in question but nothing to suggest a chaotic scene. Rather, the recording reveals people calmly going about their business as the “incident” unfolds. The recording even captures a casual conversation about the meeting room’s microphone setup moments after the “incident” concludes.
The board never heard this recording as part of its investigation and refused to listen to it after Kvapil made it available at Monday’s meeting. The board claimed Kvapil should have released the recording earlier, but the board’s refusal to listen to it further demonstrates the politicization of the investigation.
Kvapil is learning firsthand how dirty small-town politics can get. Censure acts as a formal reprimand of a fellow member, stopping short of expulsion. It is rarely used, and in censuring Kvapil, the board trivialized an action typically reserved for actual and serious infractions.
Former board member Janet Green also knows something about this board’s penchant for squashing dissent.
Fellow board members feigned surprise when Green resigned in April 2016 shortly after she publicly questioned the board’s decision to hire J.P. Cullen as both design consultant and construction manager for the yet-to-be-approved new high school.
Whether her concerns were valid is beside the point. Our concern is over this board trying to intimidate members who voice dissent.
If the district’s goal is to shame office holders into toeing the district line, this tactic will backfire. If anything, Monday night’s spectacle will only further divide Milton and sap what little trust remains among vying factions.
Leadership is sadly missing in this district, and the censure vote only added more uncertainty and suspicion to the toxic mix that is Milton School District politics. How the district recovers from these shenanigans and comes together to tackle the district’s many facility-related challenges is unclear.