Richland School Board fires Jim Busey

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 23, 2013 

The Richland School Board fired its superintendent Tuesday for having an affair with an elementary school em-ployee, violating the morality clause of his contract.

The board unanimously agreed to fire Jim Busey after an almost three-hour, closed-door meeting on the findings of an investigation begun Nov. 8.

School board Chairman Rick Jansons said Busey improperly used his district cellphone and email in the relationship. And the board said the investigation also found Busey made "threats to misrepresent" the district. Neither side will say what those issues involved.

Jansons said board members were "gravely disappointed" with Busey's actions. Jansons' voice wavered with emotion as he read the board's reasons for dismissing Busey.

"He's lost his effectiveness as a superintendent," he said.

Busey's termination is effective immediately. Jansons said Busey was dismissed for violating his contract and will not receive any settlement or extension of benefits.

Busey told the Herald on Tuesday he talked with his attorney and has a number of options.

"The board had to make a decision and I have to make mine," he said.

Busey, who has led the district for almost three years, was placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 10.

The focus of the district's investigation was his relationship with an employee at Jefferson Elementary School and the relationship's effect on his job, as well as a second alleged relationship with a woman who supervised student teachers in the district but is not directly employed by the district.

Jansons said the relationships violated Busey's contract, which states, the "superintendent shall fulfill all aspects of this contract in a legal, ethical and moral manner. ... Failure to fulfill the obligations agreed to in this contract will be good and just cause for discharge ."

The district could also report Busey to the Office of Professional Practices, a department of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, for contract violations. Jansons said the board has not decided whether to report him to state education authorities.

Jansons said Busey conducted the relationship with the Jefferson employee on district property, in full view of parents and staff, and disrupted the environment at Jefferson.

Busey, who has been in divorce proceedings with his wife since November, admitted to the Herald he was in a relationship with the Jefferson employee but wasn't her direct supervisor and they had mutually agreed to step back from it.

But he adamantly denies a relationship with the second woman. He told the Herald he and the woman met once for coffee and exchanged occasional emails.

A third focus of the district's investigation was Busey's threats to disclose some district information. Busey told the Herald he is talking with his attorney about that issue. Jansons and other board members said the decision to fire Busey was hard but that they ultimately had to act in the district's best interests.

"It's a very difficult decision to come to," agreed Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary.

Jansons urged voters to separate their opinions on the board's handling of the Busey investigation from their consideration of the district's proposed $98 million bond in the Feb. 12 election. Voters should receive their ballots in the mail this week.

Busey was hired in February 2010 by the current members of the school board. He previously was superintendent in the Lake Chelan School District.

His most recent job evaluation last February showed stellar marks. He received the highest possible scores in all but two categories, with the board saying he could do better about communicating with board members who couldn't attend all the district's leadership meetings.

"(Busey's) personal actions, demeanor and interaction with all are exemplary and above reproach," according to a final note in the evaluation, which Busey provided to the Herald. "Jim is a leader who 'walks the talk!' It is a pleasure to work with him!"

Busey told the Herald he has done nothing wrong and fought what he said were the board's efforts to offer him a settlement.

A draft resignation and settlement agreement sent to Busey in December would have paid him through Dec. 31, 2012, as well as extended his health benefits for six months.

Rich Puryear, the district's director of financial services, will continue as acting superintendent for the time being. Jansons said Puryear is not interested in the job and the board will conduct a search for a permanent replacement.

Puryear has been with the district since 2000. He previously worked in the Othello and North Franklin school districts, as well as for Educational Service District 105. Puryear also is superintendent of Star School District, which runs a single elementary school northeast of Pasco.

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

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