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Former West Yellowstone superintendent speaks out about her sudden resignation

Dr. Debra Fountain says she feared for her safety in the small town of West Yellowstone.
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Posted at 1:05 PM, Nov 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-01 15:05:44-04

Last week, the West Yellowstone school superintendent resigned and left town suddenly. MTN spoke with the former superintendent, parents, and the School Board chair to find out what happened and how the district is moving forward.

"This has me shaken because these people, I don't know, have a lot of power there, I guess. And we were the outsiders," says former Superintendent, Dr. Debra Fountain.

Fountain left town and then quit on Oct. 23. She says after being hired, she soon discovered she had no authority, and all decisions were made by the School Board. Then she uncovered what she calls excessive overtime for some district employees.

"When they posted the budget in all their paystubs, you know, the amounts of the pay were up there. I was looking at that, and then I thought, wait a minute, the District Clerk makes more than my High School Principal/ Athletic Director," says Fountain.

Foutnain says she felt that the board and many people in the town were retaliating against her for her allegations of inappropriate overtime and other issues she raised.

"I got an email from the board saying that a complaint, they were supporting a complaint, a hostile work environment was filed with possible suspension. So that's clear retaliation," says Fountain. "Driving up and down our street, we had people filming us with their cameras, with their phones. They were driving up and down our street, aggressively filming my family and myself at our rental house. And then our landlord said the same sentiment to us—we were not safe in West Yellowstone, we had to get out."

MTN spoke with West Yellowstone resident, Jason Howell, who says Dr. Fountain should have gotten more community and school support.

"It's tough. You know, you got to take her for how she feels and her family. And it—my heart goes out to her," says Howell. "You know, like I said, for her to pick up and move to West Yellowstone from Louisiana in July or June when they moved, and then to feel the way she did that she had to leave town, in my mind is unacceptable as a community and as a school."

MTN reached out to Board Chair, Liz Watt, regarding Dr. Fountain's accusations. She responded:

"As you may be aware, public employees, including a district superintendent, have rights of privacy in their performance that do not allow the district the freedom to discuss with the press.  The Board is aware of Fountain’s allegations relating to employee overtime and we are reviewing that issue.  As you may also be aware, the eligibility for overtime and the requirement to pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week are governed by state and federal law. The board has not retaliated against any employee, nor is the Board aware of any violation of the laws governing overtime among its staff at this time.”

The West Yellowstone School District is hosting a special board meeting Tuesday evening.