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Gianni, O’Neal school board spat goes public

Rocco Gianni, a physical education teacher at Langley Middle School, speaks to the school board May 22. He was upset following a series of miscommunications and poor timing during the election filing period in May. School board director Fred O
Rocco Gianni, a physical education teacher at Langley Middle School, speaks to the school board May 22. He was upset following a series of miscommunications and poor timing during the election filing period in May. School board director Fred O'Neal initially asked Gianni to run for his seat with plans to not run again.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

A private spat played out in public at a South Whidbey School Board meeting.

Rocco Gianni, a retiring physical education teacher at Langley Middle School, questioned school board member Fred O’Neal in front of a packed meeting room May 22. Gianni asked O’Neal what happened in their email communications about him taking over O’Neal’s position 2 seat that O’Neal had considered not running for again.

“He asked me to run and take his place,” Gianni said of O’Neal. “I had no expectation that he was going to run. I assumed he was going in temporarily until he knew I was going to take it.”

“I was honored when he asked me to take his place,” Gianni added. “That was the part that hurt.”

In a tense moment, Board Chairman Steve Scoles told the men they should discuss the matter over coffee, privately.

O’Neal later said it was a matter of poor timing. The longtime school board director wanted Gianni to enter in the position 2 race, which was O’Neal’s seat.

Gianni initially filed for the other open seat of the at-large position 5, vacated by Jill Engstrom. Contenders Miriam Coates and Betty Bond had already entered their names for the election the first day of the filing week. Gianni’s late addition created a three-way race, necessitating a primary election. Gianni withdrew his filing for position 5 and re-filed with position 2, then went back to position 5. Ben Watanabe / The Record | School board director Fred O'Neal has plans to seek a seat on the state school board this fall, and may vacate his South Whidbey School District position.

Because the South Whidbey School District’s board election was the only primary in its area, the district will pay about $28,000 to cover the primary’s cost. Gianni said he was unaware his filing would create a primary, and when public questions arose over his two filing changes in four days, Gianni became agitated.

“All I wanted to do is do the right things for the kids,” Gianni said at the meeting.

O’Neal acknowledged that both men were upset with the way the situation developed. But he was not ready to accept the majority of blame, if there was any to be doled out.

“He was ticked, and I was really ticked because I was thinking of kicking back and taking it easy,” O’Neal said, referring to his original intention of leaving the school district to seek a seat with the state school board.

“We should have kept each other in the loop … I’m sure it’s as much my fault as his, but that doesn’t make either of us feel better at the end of the day.”

Gianni is still a candidate for school board director position 5. The primary election with Gianni, Coats and Bond will be held Aug. 13.

 

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