DANVILLE — The Danville Area School Board voted 6-2 to accept football coach Jim Keiser’s resignation at a contentious meeting where two board members — board President Kevin Brouse and 12-year member Dawn Koons Gill, who was absent — submitted letters of resignation, citing, respectively, conflicts with other board members and dishonesty.
The board accepted Keiser’s resignation before a packed meeting room of more than 60 people Wednesday night. Several residents, some of them parents, and a player, spoke in support of Keiser, who was suspended before he resigned. They asked the board to rescind his resignation. Fred Smedley also told the board he had collected 45 signatures on a petition since Aug. 23 asking to bring Keiser back. Smedley got four people to sign just before the meeting began.
Board member Joel Klena, reading from a statement following the public comments, said Keiser turned in his resignation after the district presented him with the results of an “in-depth investigation” completed by the district administration.
Klena said the conclusion of the investigation was “based on written statements from more than 15 individuals.” He said the investigation found continued concern regarding inappropriate language.
“These actions were consistent with those previously identified as promoting a culture of negativity,” Klena continued, adding that the culture was not representative of the best values of the district or providing the best environment for student-athletes.
Some in the crowd asked if the written statements were from current players, and Klena replied yes.
Board Vice President Josh Seidel said he had not seen the statements from the investigation, and Brouse said he had not seen the report. When residents began shouting and questioning that, Brouse tried to explain but couldn’t get a word in.
“I have nothing more to say,” he said.
Later, after many of the residents had left, Klena said the information was made available to board members piecemeal, and that speaking for himself, once the coach resigned, “My need to see this information ended.”
Brouse echoed that, stating, “I prefer not knowing any more than necessary.”
Klena then added he was “convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt” the complaints did not stem from a single incident.
Parents say players told not to attend
A couple of players’ parents said their kids were not interviewed. Several said earlier in the meeting that team members were told by someone not to attend the board meeting after they planned to show up. When Brouse asked who told them, they didn’t know. He said he knew it wasn’t any member of the board or administration.
Greg Simas, the father of a team member, said during the earlier comment period, “A thorough investigation has not been done.”
He said there were rumors that some were against Keiser ever since he was named coach 11 years ago, but he said that was based on hearsay.
Seidel, who confirmed after the meeting he and others believe board member Randy Keister has been trying to get Keiser out since he was named coach 11 years ago, said, “This was all about his agenda.”
Seidel said he’s probably the next to resign.
Asked about that, Keister would only say, “It’s not true that I’ve been trying to get rid of him since he’s been appointed.”
Simas also claimed the threat of a lawsuit by parents forced Keiser to resign.
“Jim Keiser’s resignation was forced. That’s what it looks like. It’s time the voices of many are heard,” Simas said to loud applause and cheers.
Team member Tyler Artley told the board, “Coach Keiser is like a second father to me.”
He said his grandfather and two uncles passed away in the past couple of years.
“Now I’m losing a coach,” Artley said.
‘He’s still a bully’
Pauline Batter said, though, the crowd sounded like an angry mob.
“It may be one kid he’s bullying, but he’s still a bully,” Batter said of Keiser.
In response to a couple residents who noted Keiser’s win record, she added, “While the record may stand, it’s the kids who earned those records. They are still under 18.”
This is the second year in a row that Keiser was suspended. The board announced in January 2018 that Keiser and his staff would be retained but it would proceed with a “performance improvement plan” for the staff.
Keister temporary president
When the board began to name a temporary president, Christina Fish nominated Keister, a former board president, but the crowd yelled, “No!”
He was voted in as temporary president with Seidel and Derl Reichard voting no and Keister abstaining. Seidel promptly resigned as vice president but will still serve as a member.
Brouse, reading his letter of resignation early in the meeting, said, “My working relationship with several board members would continue to be a distraction trying to move forward productively.”
He said that with the work that lies ahead of the board related to contract talks, a superintendent search and long-range planning, “It would be best if there is a cohesive and respectful working relationship between all board members going forward.”
He apologized to the taxpayers and board members who were supportive during his tenure, and, with tears welling up in his eyes, he choked up as he thanked administrators and staff.
Acting Superintendent Ricki Boyle read Gill’s letter, which thanked parents and supporters. Gill cited improvements in academics and accomplishments in extracurricular activities and the several major building projects during her time on the board.
She said she wished she could continue on the board but can’t because, “Honesty is in short supply” on the board.
“Recent personnel discussions, both professional and extra-curricular have, in my opinion, been poisoned by deceit, falsity and slander by a few board members as well as administrators with a clear agenda,” Gill wrote. “I wanted to hang in there and push back against them, but I just don’t have the energy to fight their dishonesty any more.”
She said it was too late to remove her name from the ballot for November’s election, but she said she would decline the seat if she is re-elected.
Neither Brouse nor Gill specifically cited disagreement over Keiser as a reason for their resignation.