Ki-Be offer to 2 substitute teachers rejected

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 20, 2012 

BENTON CITY -- The Kiona-Benton City School District has offered to pay two dismissed substitute teachers $2,000 each to settle their claims against the district.

But a district official said the teachers reportedly have rejected the offer, with the teachers saying they just want to know why they were removed from substitute call lists in the first place.

Avone Williamson and Vic Engelhart worked in the district for years before retiring and becoming substitutes.

"My concern is I'm not after the money," Engelhart said. "We've never had due process."

Eric Nordlof, a consultant who developed the settlement for the district, said he was not aware of all details in the case, and could not say why the teachers were dismissed or whether that information would ever be provided.

Superintendent Rom Castilleja would not discuss the two cases, saying they have been through the grievance process and they should be aware of what the district's settlement offer is.

"I'm really not going to go there," Castilleja told the Herald.

The teachers have said they were working at Kiona-Benton City Middle School on March 13 when Williamson requested Engelhart's help in dealing with an unruly class. A few students were sent to the office and their parents were contacted.

About a week later, the teachers learned all their substitute teaching assignments for the coming days had been removed from an online scheduler. Williamson and Engelhart said they were told their dismissal was a district decision.

The Kiona-Benton City Education Association and Washington Education Association filed a grievance on the teachers' behalf, citing language in the union's contract with the district that any substitute who works a given number of days in one school year is covered by it. Both teachers met that threshold.

The district's settlement offer came without taking the matter before an arbitrator, which recently has happened with a few other grievances against the district and ended up costing it tens of thousands of dollars. In addition to a cash settlement, the teachers would have been allowed to return to substitute teaching in the district, Nordlof said.

But the substitutes were required to sign an agreement to release the district from later legal action in order to get the settlement, Nordlof said, which he was told they have refused to do.

"It was a little discouraging," Nordlof told the Herald.

Williamson and Engelhart said the settlement offer suggests the district knew it was wrong to dismiss them, but it doesn't tell them what led to it.

"I want to know what I did," Williamson said. "I want to know the complaint." She said she hasn't refused to settle, but still has questions.

But the reason for the substitutes' removal may never be revealed. Steve Lindholm, a WEA representative who works with the local union, said union representatives or the teacher themselves could pursue the case further, but that does not mean the information would ever come out.

"An arbitrator can't make (administrators) say those things," he said.

It's unclear how the case will proceed. However, the substitutes and Lindholm acknowledged financial and emotional issues will need to be considered.

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