Ketchikan School Board members expressed cautious optimism Wednesday about getting back to the negotiating table with Ketchikan Education Association.

The two sides have been negotiating a new teacher contract for many months, and an impasse was declared earlier this summer. The current contract expired more than a year ago. During public comment Wednesday, KEA Vice President Sarah Campbell told the board that the union offered to restart negotiations, but never received a response from Superintendent Robert Boyle.

Board members told Boyle they want to return to the table and questioned why he hadn’t responded. Boyle said the union had a limited time frame to meet and that’s been challenging for the district’s team.

Board Member Kim Hodne said there should have been an immediate response to at least acknowledge the request.

“I’m an idiot, but I’m not stupid. I know that this process could be going a lot quicker than we’re making it be,” he said. “We’re dragging our feet too much and I’m kind of finished with it. A good part of the board is, I know the community is, I know the teachers are. We’ve got to get things moving. These constant delays for reasons are becoming excuses. I’m done with that.”

Other board members agreed that it’s time to make progress. Several members said that Rick Rafter’s return as head of district human resources was a good move toward finding compromise with the union.

In a show of good faith, the board agreed to postpone a contract with an Anchorage attorney to represent the district in arbitration, which could still happen this fall.

The contract with John Sedor will come back to the board on Sept. 12th. So that gives both sides a little more than a month to make progress.

Also discussed on Wednesday is the board’s plan to hire an investigator who would review the district’s actions in relation to sexual harassment and assault charges against a former teacher.

Board President Trevor Shaw has been leading the effort to find an investigator, with help from other board members. They have a handful of firms for the board to consider, and a special meeting is set for Aug. 15th to potentially vote on one of them.

During public comment, Liz Jones questioned why Shaw has not recused himself from leading the effort. She said during the last meeting, Shaw revealed he had been close friends with the accused teacher, Doug Edwards, and that gives the perception of a conflict.

Jones and Shaw ended up having a back-and-forth argument.

“So you’re saying that somehow I’ve been hampering this investigation?” Shaw asked.

“No, I’m not saying that at all,” Jones replied.

“That’s what’s being implied,” Shaw said.

“That’s not what I said, that’s not what I implied,” Jones said. “What I implied is an ethical person would have recused yourself from this investigation from the beginning because of the relationship you have with this person. That’s just standard.”

Shaw did not agree right away, but later announced that he’d thought more about it and agreed in part. Saying he wants people to trust the process, Shaw handed oversight of the investigation to Hodne, who is the board’s vice president.

Shaw will continue to participate, but only as another member of the board.

Also Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to hire Lindsay Rosendin as the district’s new speech pathologist.