School board declines to vote on dismissals

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 18, 2012 

Two Kiona-Benton City School Board members attempted to bring the reinstatement of two dismissed substitute teachers to a vote Monday night, but other board members and district officials said it was not the appropriate time.

The board accepted a petition signed by more than 60 district teachers asking that Vic Engelhart and Avone Williamson be allowed to again serve as substitute teachers in the district.

Board members Wayne Elston and Tim Cook voiced frustration that the issues surrounding the substitutes' dismissal have not been resolved and why it hadn't been presented to the board.

"Obviously, it's not been resolved, and it's our job to resolve it," Elston said.

Superintendent Rom Castilleja said the matter, despite an earlier attempt to resolve it, was ongoing and it was not yet to the point where it could be brought to the board.

"It's not something you can take to a vote right now because it's tied up in the grievance process," Castilleja said.

Engelhart and Williamson were removed from the district's substitute teacher list in mid-March. The teachers said they were never informed of why they were dismissed, but it followed an incident when the teachers disciplined a group of eighth-grade students, including a son of board member Jill Renz-Whitman.

Renz-Whitman has denied any role in the substitutes' dismissal. Castilleja said the dismissals were for cause but has declined to go into details.

Elston and Cook disagreed with Castilleja on the status of the case. Cook said the issue hasn't ever been resolved and should be presented to the board. Castilleja said the issue was initially resolved with the Kiona-Benton Education Association, the teachers union, accepting it but now saying it did not accept it.

"It's a disagreement," Castilleja said. "They've filed a second grievance, and we've responded to that."

Earlier this fall, Eric Nordlof, a labor relations consultant with the district, did negotiate $2,000 each to Engelhart and Williamson to settle the grievance they filed in response to their dismissal. They have not accepted it, stating their questions about their removal haven't been answered.

However, Elston and Cook have said they were unaware of that settlement offer, stating it wasn't presented to the board. Elston said Monday night that he wanted a meeting with Nordlof to discuss his role in working with the board. Castilleja said he would set up a meeting.

"This has gone on far too long," Elston said. "It needs to be resolved."

Also Monday:

w Castilleja presented information to the board indicating it is not required to hear general public comment at board meetings, though many districts do and it is a good idea.

Castilleja provided the information after Elston and Cook questioned why public comment wasn't allowed at the board's last meeting in November.

The board is required to hear public comment when changing district policies or considering budgetary issues. Castilleja added that it is the board chairman's responsibility to write up the agenda with individual board members bringing agenda items to his attention.

Elston voiced concern about Castilleja's presentation, as he said it contrasted with what he understood about open public meetings from the Washingston School Directors Association and his experience on the board. He requested Castilleja set up a time for an association representative to make a presentation to the board on the matter.

"We don't look like a transparent board," Elston said.

w The board voted to provide $16,000 to complete the construction of the field house at Kiona-Benton High School's athletic facilities.

Steve McGahn, a community member and volunteer working on the project, said that money should allow him to finish the project, including purchasing a $4,000 heat pump for the building. He said it is necessary as the school's fall sports teams continue to improve and extend their seasons into the colder months.

The final allocation puts the project about $15,000 over the initial $50,000 budget. However, the district has increased the size of the field house from a planned 30-by-60-foot structure to one that is 40 feet by 80 feet with a second-level storage area and other improvements.

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