You'd have to be serving detention to have missed the latest kerfuffle at Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS). The Missoulian last week released a damning 20-second audio clip of Trustee Nancy Pickhardt berating two private citizens with a combination of expletives and sarcasm. The voicemail tirade—which included the choice phrase "go fuck yourselves"—was directed at retired teacher Caroline Pickolick and her husband, Nicholas, over a letter Nicholas had written to the daily paper. Nicholas, like many in the community, criticized the trustees for awarding Superintendent Alex Apostle a 10 percent pay raise right after teachers received a measly .05 percent boost.
The trustees basically sent the same message to teachers that Pickardt sent to the Pickolicks.
Meanwhile, Pickhardt, now in her fifth year with the board, dodged the press all week. When the Independent called her last Thursday, she told us she'd been "hounded" by the media and still had nothing to say about the voicemail. She then asked us, in a forceful tone but without using any four-letter words, not to call her again. During Tuesday's Board of Trustee's meeting, Pickhardt read a prepared statement apologizing to the Pickolicks and asking for forgiveness for her "inappropriate actions and language."
Pickhardt's outburst surprised many in the community, and Board Chair Toni Rehbein stated publicly that MCPS has "never had this kind of experience." But a little digging into school board records revealed some red flags about Pickhardt's behavior that Rehbein and her fellow trustees must've overlooked.
Last December, Missoula resident Jeanne Joscelyn submitted a letter to school board officials titled, "Unprofessional conduct of MCPS Trustee Nancy Pickhardt at September Superintendent, Cabinet and Trustee School Meeting." Joscelyn writes that on September 26, 2009, Pickhardt approached former trustee Carol Bellin during a public meeting and "began chastising Carol for her earlier comments regarding the beverage contract." The incident, according to Joscelyn, continued for some time, with Pickhardt "criticizing and bullying" Bellin. Bellin confirms the story, and was one of several people who called for Pickhardt's resignation Tuesday night.
"I just do not think Nancy Pickhardt has the skills to openly listen to different points of view without intimidating people," Bellin told the Indy.
Joscelyn's letter—available online in the board's agenda packet for Dec. 8, 2009—also outlines an exchange between her and Pickhardt from summer 2006. Joscelyn said the two were entering a building when Pickhardt turned to her and said, "You are one of the most pathetic people I have ever known." Joscelyn says she wrote the school board about the incident at the time, but they dismissed it as a private matter.
At this point, Pickhardt's well-documented behavior is anything but private.