2 Ki-Be School Board members not told about settlement offered to substitute teachers

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 23, 2012 

BENTON CITY, Wash. -- Two members of the Kiona-Benton City School Board were not notified of a recent settlement offer to two former substitute teachers who have a grievance filed against the district.

Avone Williamson and Vic Engelhart, who were removed from the district's substitute teacher list last spring, were offered $2,000 each by Eric Nordlof, a consultant and attorney working for the district.

"There was a decision to pay money to the substitutes, and I didn't know about it," said board member Wayne Elston during Monday's board meeting. He said he learned about the settlement in Saturday's Herald.

The issue raised questions about whether all members of the board are being notified of personnel issues filed with the district.

The district has dealt with numerous employee grievances and unlawful labor practice complaints in recent years. In the past several weeks, arbitrators ruled against the district in two cases, requiring the district to pay out tens of thousands of dollars, partially to compensate two teachers forced to work extra hours and partially to pay employees inappropriately docked pay to cover health care costs.

Williamson and Engelhart were taken off the district's substitute teacher list after a day when both were teaching at Kiona-Benton City Middle School. Williamson requested Engelhart's aid in controlling an unruly classroom that resulted in a few students being sent to the office and their parents contacted.

Engelhart, who addressed the board Monday night, said a district administrator has never contacted or explained to him why he and Williamson were taken off the list. A few board members expressed surprise Engelhart hasn't been talked to.

"I personally would like to apologize," Elston said.

In addition to the cash settlement, it was reported the substitutes would also be offered reinstatement. Nordlof since has said the teachers would not be allowed to return. Engelhart said that no information about why he was let go has left him with a lot of questions.

"There seems to be a lot of stuff up in the air," he said.

Connie Meredith, a teacher at Kiona-Benton City Elementary School and president of the Kiona-Benton City Education Association, asked how the board is informed of personnel issues, such as grievances. Board President Charles Gray said it was Superintendent Rom Castilleja's duty to tell the board of those matters.

Whether Castilleja is carrying out that duty was a subject of debate.

"I'm saying no because there's a bunch I don't know about," said board member Tim Cook.

Castilleja was absent because he is attending a conference.

-- Ty Beaver 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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