Laster's goals spark quibbling by board

Martin Laster did his homework, but it wasn't good enough for some members of the South Whidbey Board of Education Monday night.

The board had charged Laster, the district's superintendent, with developing a set of goals for the next three years. But when he handed them over at Monday's board meeting, the discussion never moved off one item on the list: solicit surveys.

This led to discussion about a survey sent out by the district office in the spring. Discussion of the list of goals Laster prepared barely got underway when an hour-long disagreement erupted and board members complained that the district sent out a survey without their input.

"I like the idea of a survey, but I don't know if it's in the superintendent's area," said board president Ray Gabelein. "I would rather we work together."

The survey, based on names and addresses sent back with a districtwide survey in 2000, asked for responses from about 300 people. They were asked to evaluate the district's performance in a number of areas, including administration, school board leadership, teachers and financial management.

The survey did not seem to be a priority item for at least one member of the board. Director Barb Schneeman said the district has bigger problems on which to focus.

"The district has a number of challenges facing it, such as the budget, curriculum, performance reviews, and we are constrained by law how we do things," Schneeman said. "I would like to make sure we don't keep adding to our plate. The survey last spring was a total surprise."

In the face of the complaints about the survey from board members, Laster talked about the results from the multiple-choice form.

"The information was good and informative," he said.

During an interview the morning after the meeting Laster said "We only had two numbers below three, four was the best."

But the ire over the survey persisted. Two board members, Schneeman and Gabelein, expressed the opinion that a survey wasn't necessary to judge how board members are doing at their jobs.

"My accountability is to the people I serve, and they let me know how I am doing with their vote," Schneeman said.

In addition, director Jim Adsley questioned the survey's sample size.

"The survey was pretty limited; it needs to be broadened," he said.

Schneeman agreed, suggesting it be sent to the entire database.

Ultimately, the argument over the survey seemed to come down to a trust issue, at least for Ray Gabelein. He expressed concern that the board hadn't had input prior to its being mailed.

"I don't care for the way it was done," he said.

At that, director Bob Riggs pointed out the board's shortcomings over writing up its own goals. He tried to credit Laster for the work he did.

"I feel sorry for Dr. Laster, we asked him for superintendent's goals, he has done that, we don't even have board goals yet," Riggs said. "I don't get it. We've hired Dr. Laster to do a job, and he is doing it."

Attempting to get the discussion directed back to the goals he authored for the district, Laster suggested the board look them as a model.

"I am thrilled to hold myself accountable," he said.

Digressing into a subject of concern for him, Adsley started a discussion over the perceived need for a five-year district plan, as opposed to the three-year plan summarized in Laster's goals.

"We've talked about a financial plan for a couple years, that it should be part of the goals. I want to see the district prepared, and not be operating under crisis management."

Frustration was evident on Riggs' after Adsley's comments.

"We have asked Dr. Laster for criteria, never a asked for a five-year budget plan," he said. "We've talked about everything under the sun without giving a clear message to Dr. Laster and the administration. I would like to see us, the board, give this gentleman some courtesy," Riggs said.

At that point Riggs walked to the back of the room for a glass of water.

Adsley responded pointedly to Riggs' comments, then lamented what he saw as the board's failure to generate useful information for the state.

"If we're through with the grandstanding," he said. "It's frustrating, we spent hours going through exercises at a board retreat several weeks ago. I would have liked more useful information."

Gabelein agreed the retreat meeting could have gone better.

"I am not in favor of survey without board input," he said.

Laster then suggested the board make better use of its time at meetings.

"We've done this before, multiple sessions banged out about what we are supposed to do," he said. "I needed to deliver the goals to the board, which I did. Lets be clear about the process and make a better use of time."

The board then moved on without discussing any more goals on Laster's list.

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