School board votes to lay off assistant superintendent

The South Whidbey Board of Education voted Monday night to cut the assistant superintendent's position from the central office next fall.

In front of a packed room at South Whidbey Intermediate School, the board voted three to two to RIF Assistant Superintendent Dan Blanton. The motion was amended to reflect a final decision would be made with the publication of the school budget on July 10.

The decision to lay off the assistant superintendent was approved by directors Ray Gabelein, Barb Schneeman and Jim Adsley. Voting against were Helen Price Johnson and Bob Riggs.

"All the projections I have seen from the district office in showing worse case scenarios and the six different budget approaches presented tonight exceed the amount of money (the district needs to cut) with ample cushion. It has also been demonstrated that we are not top heavy in the district office," Riggs said.

Superintendent Martin Laster presented the board with six sample approaches for budget reductions that did not include reducing staff, except by attrition, and allowed for a cushion for possible changes.

Riggs likened the board's vote to "cutting off one leg of a three-legged stool," referring to the administrative staff at the central office.

Laster said the staffing is appropriate for the functions required to run a district of this size.

"All 10 districts in the our league have at least three certificated central office staff members," Laster said. "Four of the largest six districts have four central office staff members, while one of the six districts, South Whidbey, was in the minority, having only three certificated staff members."

Laster presented school district comparisons of administrative staff that show South Whidbey is staffed at a level consistent with other districts in the league, even those half its size.

"A legitimate question to ask is 'What does it take to run a district office?' " Laster said. "So we did look at all of the neighboring districts that can be argued are in our field of comparison, and found that the staffing is in what one would expect in the size of South Whidbey."

Several district employees spoke against the board's decision, including Susan Nerison, secretary to the superintendent.

"I have worked for three assistant superintendents and two curriculum directors, and also people who have filled in at a high cost to this district, and this work will not get done if we eliminate that position.

"I'm confused, because last year it was Diane Watson and this year it is Dan Blanton. I don't understand where we are going with this. Are we talking positions or personalities? We have six proposals from the superintendent that are not being considered. I'm really confused."

Before the final vote on the amendment, there was discussion about the fact that none of Laster's scenarios included laying off staff.

"It is unlikely that central office has (would) put together a proposal to RIF the central office," Gabelein said.

District Business Manager Mike Moore said, "I take offense that that comment. The central office will put together whatever RIF was necessary when it became necessary. We don't have any blinders on or a good ol' boy network that we wouldn't RIF a central office administrator if that were needed. So, I think that is an erroneous statement."

Several board members including Gabelein expressed interest in adopting a new language arts curriculum next year.

Gabelein speaking to Laster about the sample approaches to budget reduction said, "In some of the samples you e-mailed us over the weekend there were samples but not recommended areas we could reduce, I'm a little confused on the language arts -- the dollars you want to set aside. Do we have the total cost for language arts?"

As of now the new language arts curriculum staff is scheduled to begin looking into a new curriculum.

"I would hope that in 30 days we could get more information from Olympia for our budget process and hope we could put some dollars towards this language arts without going into the reserve fund," Gabelein said.

Laster said the staff indicated they would like an additional year to do that, so there is no cost now.

Primary School Principal Bernie Mahar said, "K-5 staff almost unanimously have said we really need to look into current research and best practices, and we do have someone that is speaking at the May inservice day. We want to pick the best and not be subject to a curriculum salesperson."

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