School board struggles to answer letter about actions

Most authors write more than one draft to come up with a finished product. The South Whidbey Board of Education is no exception.

During Monday night's board workshop at South Whidbey Intermediate School, the board attempted to agree upon a written response to questions raised by the community over the status of board Director Barbara Schneeman.

Twenty-four residents -- including teachers, parents and former school board members -- raised issues in a letter sent to the board on March 12. The issues raised were:

n Schneeman's move out of her district last fall without notifying the board or her constituents.

n Questions concerning a possible conflict of interest on Schneeman's part related to her employment at Skagit Valley College and oversite of the college's Running Start program.

n Money spent resurfacing the high school track, money that was not budgeted.

n The extent to which board members are lobbying for state money for education.

Chairman Ray Gabelein drafted the first response, which board members discussed Monday night. Present at the meeting were directors Rau Gabelein, Jim Adsley, Bob Riggs and Helen Price Johnson.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the board agreed the first draft couldn't be agreed upon. Gabelein and Riggs were charged with working on a second draft.

Gabelein said as long there were only four board members at the workshop, finding agreement would be difficult.

"There is a way to respond, a middle ground," he said. "There are some things that can be responded to that will enhance the public's perception of the board."

Adsley questioned the source of the letter.

"I don't believe it popped up out of the community," Adsley said.

But he was not specific about how it might have originated. Riggs asked for clarification.

"You are saying someone in the administration or inside the district brought it out?" Riggs asked.

The first paragraph of the letter states the board has "obfuscated facts about its behavior, bullied staff, administrators and other board members and has misled the public about many issues."

"I don't feel bullied but do feel my opinion is ignored. I feel like I am the Jeff Cirillo of the school board," said Riggs.

In response to the Schneeman issue, Riggs said the board has given her a number of opportunities to work out a solution.

Gabelein said it is unlikely that the board will agree on whether Schneeman violated the policy. On the Running Start issue, Adsley stood up for his board colleague.

"Barbara always makes a point of recusing herself from voting on anything to do with with Skagit Valley College or the Running Start Program," he said. "You are taking potshots at Barbara."

Also in the draft response, it was pointed out that Director Price Johnson's brother-in-law is South Whidbey High School Principal Mike Johnson.

Price Johnson objected to that statement.

"I thought we were here to respond to the letter from the community," she said.

Several paragraphs in the draft about the track resurfacing related to the history of the track.

"My concern is people don't understand the history. We had a chance to fix the track last year for $15,000 but we took the advice of administration that said it was OK to let it go, then last fall we needed to fix it to compete, which we did for $39,000," Gabelein said.

During a board meeting, Facilities Manager Rick Pitt recommended against spend the money to resurface the track this year.

At one point Reva Albright who signed the letter said "this is ridiculous they are fighting like kids on the playground," Albright said as she walked out.

The final issue in the one and half page letter relates to whether the directors are actively lobbying for education funding.

A copy of the letter was sent to the state attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, Island County Auditor, The South Whidbey Record and the Everett Herald.

The letter was signed by three former school board directors including Paul Samuelson, who was present at the workshop.

"The questions (in our letter) are clear and concise. I was there and it seemed like they had a lot of questions about the letter but they didn't bother to question me.

They got lost in the paragraph language, and were very defensive," Samuelson said.

Samuelson was on the board for 17 years and wrote the policy that relates to a directors moving out of their district. Samuelson did move from his district and resigned his position on the board and then was re-elected.

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