Take action to end turmoil in Kiona-Benton schools

By the Tri-City HeraldNovember 3, 2012 

The happenings of the Kiona-Benton City School District continue to confound us.

Parents, teachers and students have taken the district to task in recent years over issues ranging from labor disputes to the high school principal's behavior in threatening to cut off a student's rosary beads with a pocket knife.

To highlight the depth of the problems at Ki-Be, the district's legal fees were more than triple the amount budgeted in the past two years. The district has spent more than $155,000 in legal expenses in that time.

When past problems arose, we called for more transparency from the district. That had no impact. And school board members are saying even they are not fully informed when it comes to actions taken by the district.

That's the last straw.

When things are this bad, the only way to rectify the situation is through a change in leadership. And we're not talking about the school board.

Most of Ki-Be's problems can be traced back to decisions made by Superintendent Rom Castilleja. Since he took over in 2007, the district has taken a downward spiral.

He ducks behind a shield, citing privacy concerns, often declines to comment or answers questions with flip and unprofessional answers, such as, "I'm really not going to go there."

His behavior is not what is expected of someone with a tax-supported salary and benefits package of more than $156,000 per year, according to state records. Nor is it acceptable behavior for someone expected to be doing the utmost to educate the children of his district.

Castilleja needs to leave before the district can heal and move forward.

The reasons are numerous, and even if Castilleja isn't the direct cause of some problems, he is the top administrator for the district. The buck stops with him.

When two school board members say they weren't informed of a decision to offer a cash settlement to two substitute teachers who were dismissed from service in the district, there's a problem. Board members should not be learning of key policy decisions in the morning newspaper.

Those two substitute teachers say they have never been given a formal reason as to why they were removed. Nor has the board met with them to discuss it. The teachers reportedly rejected the settlement offer and continue with a grievance filed against the district, demanding to know the reason for their dismissal.

Anyone fired from a job deserves to know the reason. Anything less is unfair. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teacher-administration relations in the district.

Representatives of the Kiona-Benton City Education Association have filed more than 30 claims against the district since 2011. Clearly, there's a problem, and it's not just a handful of disgruntled teachers trying to stir the pot. The majority of the rulings have come down on the side of the teachers, with the district having to pay to remedy the problems on top of the legal fees it took to get the decision.

With only 1,500 students, Ki-Be has far more controversies than a district its size should have. Headline after headline in recent weeks have been generated by the district.

Ki-Be is in need of some serious healing and a new era of leadership.

The elected officials of the district need to lead, step up to the plate and take care of business to serve the people who elected them. It's time for Castilleja to go.

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