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Transportation vote ends in tie for South Whidbey school board

A rare tie vote by the South Whidbey School Board last week has stalled a proposed housekeeping measure concerning student athlete transportation.

The policy change, discussed at the board’s regular meeting Wednesday, Nov. 20, was a time-saving initiative that would have allowed students the option of arranging their own rides to some games, such as late-night matches on Central Whidbey.

The idea was also to align existing policy with current practice as students are supposed to ride buses to games but are asked to get themselves to some games during the evening hours.

But two of the four attending board members were unwilling to approve the change.

“I don’t support it,” Director Damian Greene said. “I think this community is a gracious community that gives for a transportation budget. I think the community wants their kids in bus transportation for all extracurricular activities.”

Director Jill Engstrom expressed similar feelings on the matter.

“The expectation is that we would provide transportation,” Engstrom said. “That’s what I would like to see.”

The tie vote will cause the policy to stand as is, without changes. Board members decided to discuss the issue further at the next board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The five-member board was down one as Director Fred O’Neal was absent, returning from a trip.

School policy is to use the state-owned school buses to and from extracurricular activities. The discrepancy between existing policy and practice was realized, which is why the board is reviewing the issue, said Superintendent Jo Moccia.

After the meeting, Moccia said the board has a legitimate difference of opinion.

“That’s their role, to look at their policies and how they want the district to operate. We’ll respect whatever that decision is.”

Greene and Engstrom cast their “no” votes on approving the policy change, which calls for the superintendent to be “responsible for scheduling and shall have the authority to modify transportation services for any school or extracurricular activity.”

Greene, who is still trying to determine if the change is something the board can do, said he believes if a student is involved in any interscholastic activity and pays a fee then they should be entitled to transportation.

Greene said he would prefer to retain a system of checks and balances and not transfer authority of transportation to one person.

“It needs to be laid out and needs to be specific,” he said. “We can’t provide transportation to Coupeville for one team and not another.”

Directors Linda Racicot and Steve Scoles both agreed that they did not want to take away the ability to make decisions from the superintendent and other staff members. Both voted to approve the change in wording.

“There’s constantly shifting scenarios,” Scoles said. “I lean in the direction of allowing our employees to have some discretion and some flexibility.”

This was Engstrom’s final meeting. Her successor, Rocco Gianni, will cast his vote on the issue during his first meeting Dec. 18. During the public comment period, Gianni said he would want a clear policy to ensure safety of children.

 

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