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Schools name an acting super

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the South Whidbey Board of Education named Langley Middle School Principal Greg Willis as its acting superintendent Wednesday.

At the same time, the board accepted the resignations of Superintendent Martin Laster, Assistant Superintendent Dan Blanton, and the district’s administrative secretary, Susan Nerison. Laster, Blanton and Nerison resigned Tuesday morning due to constructive discharge, a legal term which means they believed their working conditions were so intolerable they were forced to resign.

The emergency meeting at the South Whidbey Intermediate School was held just 35 hours after the board received letters of resignation from the three. Parents, district personnel and community members packed the room, filling chairs, leaning against walls and kneeling on the floor for 25 minutes to discover who would lead the district in the wake of the resignations. No public comment was allowed at the meeting on advice of the district’s legal counsel.

Willis, the district’s longest-serving administrator, will fill the role of superintendent until an interim superintendent can be hired. He has been with the district since 1979. Reading from a prepared statement, board president Helen Price Johnson lauded Willis for “years of strong administrative performance.”

Willis served as the district’s acting superintendent in the past .

Price Johnson also used the meeting to acknowledge that the district’s recent financial trouble and other issues have generated friction between the board and district administration. At the same time, she did not place the blame for the resignations on the members of the boars.

“The elected school board does not claim infallibility, but neither can we accept the responsibility for the problems the district has experienced,” she said. “School district governance and management is a shared endeavor, and the board and top administration both have important roles to play.”

The board met in executive session with its attorney, Mike Hoge, for 90 minutes prior to discuss personnel and legal matters.

Laster, Blanton and Nerison were not present at the meeting. However, their letters of resignation spoke for them. Copies of the letters of resignation and the board’s response were available to the public at the meeting.

In his letter, Blanton claimed there was an “all out effort to discredit the superintendent and anyone who would dare stand with him.” He said he was given promises of continued employment if he would “turn my loyalty away” from Laster.

Laster said in his letter concern for his health and family, in addition to what he saw as “widening retaliation” against staff and community members forced him to resign.

Blanton and Laster said they will use unused leave to complete their contracts. Blanton’s is up in June 2004 and Laster’s in June 2005.

Speaking to this issue, Johnson said Laster’s and Blanton’s contracts would be reviewed and a determination regarding their eligibility for leave would be made. She also said she believes the assertions made by the two former administrators supporting their their constructive discharge will hold up legally.

“We do not think their assertions of constructive discharge effective June 30 have a legal basis but said they would remain open to further information,” she said.

Johnson did acknowledge that the district is “emotionally charged” at this point in time and is in need of a period of healing.

Laster was hired in 2000 following Lisa Bjork’s resignation and Blanton joined the district in 2001.

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BREAKOUT BOX

What’s next?

The South Whidbey Board of Education meets Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Intermediate School Community Room. The board expects to discuss its process for the selection of an interim superintendent.

Unlike at Wednesday’s meeting, there will be an opportunity for the public to address the board within certain guidelines. Specifically, each speaker is limited to 5 minutes. Comments pertaining to legal areas or issues for which the district has engaged legal counsel will be received by the board in writing. Discussion of personnel matters by the public will not be allowed.  

Gayle Saran / staff photo

Greg Willis, (right) Langley Middle School principal and director Bob Riggs talk following Monday night’s Board of Education meeting where Willis was appointed acting superintendent until an interim superintendent can be hired.

Greg Gilles, current board member talks with former board members, Steve Scoles (right) and Ray Gabelein Jr. after Wednesday’s meeting. Following the meeting, board members and a couple dozen people stayed around for another half an hour talking about the week’s events.

Willis named acting schools superintendent

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