Ki-Be settlement offer source of disagreement

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 27, 2012 

BENTON CITY -- There still is disagreement about whether all members of the Kiona-Benton City School Board were informed of a settlement offer in an employee dispute with the district before it was offered.

Superintendent Rom Castilleja said board members were told in meetings that they planned to offer $2,000 each to substitute teachers Vic Engelhart and Avone Williamson. Both were removed from the district's substitute teacher list last spring without explanation. There have been conflicting reports whether the teachers have rejected the offer.

Board member Tim Cook told the Herald the board discussed a settlement being offered to the teachers but had not signed off on it.

"We weren't told until after everything was done," he said.

The issue of whether all board members are being told of personnel and legal matters came up during Monday's school board meeting.

In response to public comments, board Chairman Charles Gray said it was Castilleja's responsibility to inform board members of those issues and was doing so. Cook and board member Wayne Elston took exception to that.

"There was a decision to pay money to the subs, and I didn't know about it," Elston said during the meeting.

Elston later told the Herald that the board met Oct. 8 and discussed a possible settlement with Engelhart and Williamson, but never voted to offer it.

"I had a gut feeling it was already done," Elston said.

It's not the first time Elston said he and Cook haven't been informed on issues they should be told about as board members. He said he can't give specifics because they are related to personnel issues.

"I don't know why they aren't keeping us in the loop," he said.

Gray told the Herald the board discussed the settlement during a closed-door session Oct. 8, and Castilleja was authorized to make the offer to the subs. Gray said he does not know why Cook and Elston do not recall that decision being made.

Details about why Engelhart and Williamson were removed from duty have not been revealed. Elston said the board has never met with the substitutes to hear the issue.

Castilleja told the Herald their removal was not for disciplinary reasons but was "for cause," though he declined to say what that was because their grievance is unresolved.

Gray declined to comment on whether an investigation was conducted on the matter, also noting that the grievance still is pending.

"Once everything is done, we can release information," he said.

Castilleja said Williamson was informed of the reason for her removal in an email in March with then-Ki-Be Middle School Principal Vance Wing.

Williamson has said Wing never explained a specific reason for her removal and it isn't in the email conversations she had with him.

Castilleja added that the district also isn't required to tell the substitutes why they are no longer getting assignments, as they are "at-will employees."

"They have no expectation of day-to-day work," he said.

While Eric Nordlof, a consultant who developed the settlement for the district, has said he was told by union officials the substitutes rejected the settlement, Williamson and Engelhart said they haven't made a decision because they still have unanswered questions.

"I want answers," Williamson said.

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