School board sends retire-rehire policy back for more study

Some South Whidbey school district staff members believe the Board of Education may be putting the cart before the horse when it comes to rehiring a counselor at the Langley Middle School.

The cart is a new retire rehire policy and the horse is a personnel decision.

An attempt to rehire a retired LMS counselor failed to get approval from the South Whidbey Board of Education Monday night, an action that prompted a lengthy discussion of how the school district will handle similar decisions in the future.

At the meeting, the board rejected for the second time a district hiring committee’s decision to rehire Steve McLeod, then asked a policy committee to develop a new retire-rehire policy.

Jay Freundlich, a teacher at LMS, questioned the board on its decision during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“It seems backwards to me,” Freundlich said.

Freundlich said several staff members asked board members in e-mails, and didn’t get satisfactory answers as to why the the board rejected the hiring committee’s decision, and why a policy was being developed after the fact.

“We would like to see a cleaner process and would like you to reconsider your decision,” Freundlich said.

McLeod retired in June this year and was selected by a five-member hiring committee to fill the counseling position he held for 19 years.

But disagreement erupted last month when the board rejected 4-1 McCleod’s rehire based on legal and ethical concerns with the state’s retire-rehire law.

During this week’s meeting, board Director Bob Riggs amended the current personnel report to include McLeod as a rehire. Director Helen Price-Johnson agreed with Riggs but Barb Schneeman, Ray Gabelein and Jim Adsley voted against the issue.

At last month’s meeting, Gabelein and Adsley had objected to McLeod’s rehire because the said the believed it was “a done deal” before the hiring decision even got to a hiring committee. McLeod beat out a number of other applicants for the position.

Greg Willis, the principal at LMS, was unhappy with the decision.

“There were no done deals,” Willis said. “I suggest the board look at its own dynamics.”

Director Riggs sympathized with Willis.

“I haven’t found one person who said they heard the hiring was a done deal,” he said. “Mr. Willis’ integrity has been sullied by this board.”

Gabelein said a retire-rehire policy should have been in place before McLeod was considered as a rehire. He said he has philosophical objections to rehiring retired personnel because doing so could block the hiring of new educators.

For now, the discussion of a new policy will be go back to a policy committee headed by assistant superintendent Dan Blanton.

The state’s retire-rehire law, passed by the 2001 Legislature, was at the time viewed as a way to encourage retired teachers to fill vacancies that districts couldn’t otherwise. The law allows any member of the Teachers Retirement System who has been retired for one month to be rehired for up to 1,500 hours a year — the equivalent of a full school year. The law also allows retire-rehire teachers to draw their retirement pension and earn a wage at the same time.

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