E-mail's release angers teachers

Ah, technology.

Because of several e-mail messages that became public, the South Whidbey Board of Education received a tongue lashing from a district teacher Monday night.

At issue was an e-mail sent to the board of directors and school administrators relating some concerns about the district's recent proposals to cut about $851,000 out of the 2002-03 budget. Twenty-eight Langley Middle School staff members electronically signed onto the document. After receiving that document, and several others, on their computers, school board directors Jim Adsley and Ray Gabelein Jr. gave the e-mail to The South Whidbey Record.

The action angered teacher Rachel Kizer, a signatory on the e-mail who was contacted by a reporter to comment on its content.

At the meeting she handed each board member a copy of the board's Code of Ethics and began to question the board.

"Why did you give confidential letters to the newspaper?" she said. "It makes me livid."

She said the code bars board directors from making correspondence public.

The Washington State Open Records Act, however, states that e-mail which meets certain criteria is a public record.

Kizer says she would not have put her name on an e-mail for public perusal. The document, she said, was intended for the board of education and Superintendent Martin Laster, not the public. She said the incident will give her pause in the future.

"Where do we go from here to regain trust?" Kizer asked.

The e-mail from the middle school staff is one several similar documents generated at several South Whidbey schools. Forty-one primary school staff members signed a similar letter, while 27 at the intermediate school sent their concerns in another e-mail message.

Both Adsley and Gabelein supported the public's right to know.

Gabelein said he meant no harm by distributing the e-mails.

"It is important to communicate with the public about the process we are going through," he said. "The community deserves a complete picture."

He said that in the future, public requests for information should go through the district office.

Adsley says he understands Kizer's reaction.

"It would be the way I would react. But that's what the public process is for. It's unfortunate more people didn't come forward and articulate what they put on paper."

An area of concern in all three documents was the district's assistant superintendent position, currently filled by Dan Blanton. All three letters echoed the argument that two full-time administrators at the district level was a luxury when the schools are facing a budget deficit.

In an interview this week, Langley Middle School teacher Marilynn Simmons -- who also signed onto the middle school e-mail -- said she doesn't have anything personal against Blanton, but rather against spending money on something she does not see as necessary.

"We are not talking about the person, purely the position," she said. "It's nice to have but in view of the huge amount of money that needs to be saved, is this position necessary?"

Other areas of concern were lack of teacher representation on the budget committee, increased class sizes that may occur next year and reduction in the teaching materials budget.

The e-mails and letter were written after 30 teachers were notified of possible layoffs but before the layoffs were rejected by the school board as a means to meet the district's shortfall.

At the board's May 6 meeting, Superintendent Laster and the board agreed teacher layoffs will not be necessary. Other personnel reductions up for consideration included a decrease of custodial and maintenance staff hours and a full time postion from the district office. Both of those were removed as well.

"No harm to people," Laster said. "We will not target anyone who is an employee currently in the district."

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