Evan Thompson / The Record Rocco Gianni recently stepped down from his position as a South Whidbey School Board Director. Gianni is seen here gardening at his home in Useless Bay.

Gianni steps down from South Whidbey School Board

Roughly a month away from a decision that could spell the closure of Langley Middle School, South Whidbey School Board Director Rocco Gianni has resigned.

Gianni, who was in the third year of his four-year term occupying the at-large District 5 seat, cited personal reasons, health issues and stress stemming from the potential closure of the middle school as his rationale for stepping down.

“I decided at this point, I need to take care of my family and myself,” Gianni said. “That is the most important thing to me. I never really got a chance to retire.”

“I leave with no regrets,” he added.

Gianni taught physical education and health for 31 years at the middle school and still felt emotional ties to the school. Gianni said his personal attachment to the school would not have prevented him from making a objective decision on Jan. 25, but that issues with stress and his health, which included multiple minor surgeries and problems with restless leg syndrome, became too much of a burden.

His wife Kathy Gianni is also a physical education and health teacher at the middle school. She was among those who opposed the closure of the middle school at a community meeting on Dec. 7, which Rocco Gianni said added to his stress.

The board is now down to four directors: Linda Racicot, Damian Greene, Julie Hadden and Shawn Nowlin. Gianni’s role as legislative representative was passed to Hadden, while Nowlin has taken over Hadden’s duties as a policy representative. Hadden will also move from her District 2 seat (Freeland/Langley) to an at-large seat.

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia said a replacement for Gianni is being sought; applications will be accepted by the board until Jan. 6, 2017, followed by interviews with the candidates the following week. To apply, visit www.sw.wednet.edu/domain/20. Candidates must be registered voters in South Whidbey and resident in Freeland or Langley.

The selected candidate will serve until November 2017 and have the opportunity to run for the position during the 2017 General Election.

Moccia said the board is equipped to make the decision regarding the middle school on its own, but finding a replacement who is familiar with school board procedures and information gathered over the past eight months would be ideal. She said the timing is tough, but that Gianni’s health comes first.

“You always want continuity,” Moccia said. “It takes a year to learn how to be an effective board member, so it is kind of hard.”

Racicot, board chairwoman, echoed Moccia’s sentiments by saying that having someone who is interested in the board’s work and has been plugged in during the past eight months will be helpful.

“It would be to their advantage and the district’s to have someone who is knowledgable and paying attention to the consolidation issue for sure,” Racicot said.

The school board will deliberate on information gathered from the community over the past eight months at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 at South Whidbey Elementary School; a vote will follow at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2017 at the elementary school. If the board does not close the middle school, the South Whidbey School District could be forced to layoff up to 10 teachers to remain in compliance with a board policy that requires a positive fund balance of around $998,000.

Most of the district’s budget is dedicated to teacher salaries.