South Whidbey School Board discussion leads to district kerfuffle

It turns out that there won’t be a shuffle of South Whidbey School Board districts after all.

Schools Superintendent Jo Moccia confirmed this week that the district’s initial plans to have Director Julie Hadden swap districts with Director Rocco Gianni after his announced resignation last week was the result of a miscommunication. The plan, which indicated that Hadden would resign from her existing District 2 (Freeland/Langley) position and apply for appointment to Gianni’s District 5 at-large seat, was a just a discussion by the board during a Dec. 14 workshop that led to an advertising and public announcement error.

“Because of the way the conversation went, assumptions were made,” Moccia said.

The district’s ad on its website said the board was seeking applications for Hadden’s seat, not Gianni’s. It has since been corrected and now advertises the only seat that’s actually been vacated, the at-large District 5 position.

Moccia confirmed the advertisement was a mistake on her part.

“The ad’s been fixed,” Moccia said. “It was never meant to be that.”

The vacant seat will not be reserved to just those who are in the Langley and Freeland areas, which was initially implied by the advertisement. Candidates who are registered voters and live in the South Whidbey School District’s boundaries of Clinton, Freeland and Langley must submit their applications by January 6, 2017. Interviews will follow the next week.

The district has 90 days to fill Gianni’s seat, who resigned due to health and stress-related issues last week. The selected candidate will finish out the remainder of Gianni’s term that expires in November 2017.

The school board will determine the fate of Langley Middle School next month. Board directors will deliberate on the possible closure of the school at a public workshop at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 at South Whidbey Elementary School, followed by a vote at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2017.

District officials were under scrutiny by local watchdogs following a Dec. 17 Record story that said Hadden would move to the at-large District 5 seat. Among them was Langley resident Molly Macleod-Roberts. She questioned whether the move was legal and voiced concern that two-thirds of South Whidbey’s constituency would be “disenfranchised” in emails to the board and in an interview with the paper.

“I was not assuming they were up to anything nefarious by any means,” Macleod-Roberts said. “I just wanted to know: ‘What was the process that you engaged in?’”

Macleod-Roberts said the district handled the miscommunication responsibly in the midst of a “very time-sensitive issue.”

“I’m pleased with the final outcome,” Macleod-Roberts said.

Through the confusion, however, it has become clear that Hadden may be running for the at-large seat in the November 2017 general election. And it would potentially be against the same person the board will appoint in January.

Hadden, who is in the final year of her two-year term after being appointed in 2015, had mentioned to the board at the workshop that she will be moving from Langley to Clinton in the future. She expressed interest in remaining on the board after she moves and inquired about the process of being appointed to the at-large seat so she can do so.

While state law RCW 28A.343.350 allows directors to move out of their districts and retain their seats until their terms expire, Hadden will need to file for the at-large seat in May for the 2017 General Election if she wishes to stay on the board.

Hadden said she is unsure at this point whether she will file for the at-large seat. She is also aware that perspective applicants for the at-large position or District 2 seat will need to know sooner than later.

“This whole thing with Rocco stepping away from the board, it’s opened up a whole lot of things to consider,” Hadden said. “… Life deals a whole lot of circumstances that you have to adapt to. I don’t know what’s in store for me at this point.”

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