After a lengthy discussion on Monday evening, the Guthrie Board of Education voted down the installation of a cornerstone and time capsule by the Grand Lodge for the newly built Charter Oak Elementary school.
The final agenda item of the evening called for a vote on whether to install a cornerstone (at no cost to the school district) by the Grand Lodge on the northeast corner of Charter Oak Elementary. A long-standing ceremony that Freemasons have done throughout the country for new schools, churches and public buildings.
State board member of the Freemasons and resident Bob Davis was the first of eight citizens to speak to the board. Davis said in Oklahoma, 905 cornerstones have been placed, including 372 schools.
A cornerstone can be seen at Jelsma Stadium, Guthrie Junior High and City Hall.
Cornerstones and their time capsules are a way to preserve the contemporary history of a building for its communications of the distant future (100 years).
“We conduct cornerstone ceremonies and we do that because we think it’s an important building. It’s a beautiful and meaningful ceremony that doesn’t relate to the fraternity of Freemasons. We are just the agent that does that. It’s all about your building and your history.”
Resident Steve Hannah spoke and informed the board Masonic organizations awarded $74,000 to Guthrie students last year, matched funds for the Guthrie Educational Foundation and allow free space to the school district at the Masonic Temple for school organizations (band, choir, FFA, etc.).
A public ceremony, along with students, was scheduled by the Lodge, but some school members, who were unaware of the cornerstone or ceremony, began questioning the event and cornerstone last week. The item was then placed on the board agenda to be heard.
School board member Janna Pierson, who is involved with the Lodge, was asked by board members why the item had not come before the board.
“I truly didn’t think it was something to come before the board at that time. It didn’t come to the board when we did it at Jelsma Stadium,” Pierson who has sat on the school board since 1992 said. “I honestly didn’t even think it was going to be an issue. Obviously, I was wrong. For that, I apologize.”
School board member Sharon Watts quickly claimed the board discussion was recommended by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA).
“The OSSBA strongly requested that we bring this before the full board. When its affixed to a school building it has to come before the full board,” Watts said.
Board member Jennifer Bennett-Johnson said, “What about the other organizations that are contributing to the schools? I don’t want to take away from what the Masons have done. We are greatly appreciative of all the efforts. I guess my concern is where do the other organizations get recognized?
Pierson described other organizations that are recognized throughout the school district.
“If we don’t do one, we better start pulling everything from the schools until we have a policy.”
Board President Travis Sallee said he wanted to avoid a controversial issue that did not involve education policy.
“I intend to vote no tonight. Not because I think the Masonic Lodge is undeserving, but rather the Board of Education should avoid controversial issues that have nothing to do with education policy or our students.”
Watts said a yes vote could set a precedent.
“If we vote yay then we are setting a precedent that it’s okay for a group to put their emblem on a school building. How do we decide in the future if someone else comes forward? If someone comes next year and you say ‘no we don’t want them’ then you have risk of litigation.”
Board member Gina Davis had a different concern on the cornerstone.
“The problem I have with the cornerstone is that it was suggested by a non-member of your chapter,” Davis said. “You as a chapter never came forward with a formal request of permission for this to even be done. The Rainbow girls knew there was a ceremony before this board knew there was a ceremony, or that there was even a cornerstone. With that, I felt there was some procedure issues that were not followed. It’s hard for me to stand up for you because right now is the first time I’ve heard your chapter even wanting this.”
School board member and Freemason Terry Pennington says the whole situation was not handled correctly.
“I agree that this thing might not have been handled right, but I encourage the board to consider the men and women (in the audience) that are here tonight. If there was a mistake made I’ll offer an apology from me, my Lodge and every Mason in this room. We (school district) don’t have a policy, there was a mistake made, there’s an apology from me. Let’s fix it in the future. Let’s not hold up good men and women with good intentions because a mistake by one of us. This isn’t about us up here, and we are making this about us. It’s supposed to be about the kids.”
Board member Tina Smedley was the last to speak on the issue and said she is saddened with this scenario.
“This is not a good place for this board to be up here debating this. It’s a detriment to our district. We have such great things going on and we are fighting and arguing and bickering about a cornerstone from an organization that whole heartedly supports our district.”
Pierson made one last plea to the board.
“I ask that you please consider letting the kids do this. It’s an educational thing. If I’ve made a mistake, if the Mason’s made a mistake because we didn’t do before the board in the past. I’m saying you blame that on me, but don’t take this away this opportunity from these kids to enjoy that.”
Pierson, Pennington and Smedley each voted yes, while Bennett-Johnson, Davis, Watts and Sallee voted against the cornerstone.
No other discussion on the cornerstone was taken after the final 3-4 vote.