School board stalls discussion of director

For some South Whidbey Board of Education members it's time to move on. For others, there are questions that still need answers.

Up for questioning at Monday's board meeting was board Director Barbara Schneeman's move in September from her Langley-area district to the Useless Bay area, a district represented by another board member. The issue was raised at the board's meeting in February because board rules could require Scheeman to resign because of the move.

Listed under old business on the meeting agenda, the item was moved up to the third position by board president Ray Gabelein.

In an effort to put an end to the issue, Gabelein read an e-mail into the record from Schneeman, in which she stated she will move back to her district in July.

Director Helen Price Johnson said she was not satisfied, and asked Schneeman why she did not respond in writing to questions she and director Bob Riggs sent to her on March 16. Those questions related to her move from her district and her plans to move back.

At Monday's meeting, Johnson asked Schneeman to put her intentions in writing.

"We have letters from a number of people who have put their name on the dotted line, and I would ask you to do the same," Johnson said.

Johnson said she believe the board has given Schneeman ample opportunity to respond. She also said she was frustrated with what she sees as a lack of comment from the board's leadership.

"So, I would love to have some help from my colleagues here on just how we might proceed," she said.

At that point Gabelein, who is the board's spokesperson, suggested the matter could be settled if Johnson and Schneeman would "go out for a cup of coffee or something."

In addition to discussing the issue amongst themselves, the board addressed commentary from the public. During the past few weeks, the board and school district have received a number of letters about Schneeman's move out of her district. One letter, signed by 23 people, enumerated concerns about the board's handling of the Schneeman matter, money spent to resurface the high school track and about a possible conflict on Schneeman's part due to her position as the director of the Skagit Valley College South Whidbey campus and Running Start Program.

Gabelein did not give a great deal of weight to the letter.

"There are thousands of voters, but the letter has 23 signatures," he said.

Director Jim Adsley opened the door a crack on the issue, saying it would be appropriate to respond to the letter.

"Our role is to communicate with the public; sometimes we don't do that," he said.

Both Gabelein and district Superintendent Martin Laster agreed it is unfortunate the way the Schneeman issue has developed. Laster said it should have been addressed more rapidly. In this case, whether or not the board's rules were violated, he said the board's credibility is at stake.

"There are significant issues that we need to address as a group and not just step over, because I think they are the kind of issues that either make us stronger or affect our credibility in the larger community," he said.

Gabelein didn't see it that way.

"Well, Dr. Laster, every once in a while we disagree and I would suspect on this issue you and I disagree."

Several members of the public also had their part in the discussion. Prefacing his comments, Robert Watson told the board he was speaking as a parent and tax paying citizen.

"I don't think you are doing a good job for the community," he said. "In my opinion three members are operating in a partisan way."

An emotional Kathy McLaughlin said she didn't understand why three board members -- Gabelein, Adsley and Schneeman -- are always painted with "blacks hats."

"There are a lot of good things that have happened in the district because of these three," she said.

She also asked that someone on the board state definitely whether Schneeman broke policy by moving.

Also weighing in was the South Whidbey Education Association. Teacher Rachel Kizer, vice president of SWEA, read a letter representing the concerns of over 100 members of the teacher's union.

"We the members of the South Whidbey Education Association are disappointed that the board has chosen not to follow policy regarding Schneeman's move and that in so doing it has eroded the trust and credibility that the community and the school district employees have placed in the board. We encourage and expect the board to follow its own polices as an example to community and students."

According to Johnson, the issue is likely to appear on a future board agenda.

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