Former Ki-Be board member seeks investigation of football team, hiring practices

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 18, 2013 

BENTON CITY -- A former Kiona-Benton City School Board member has called for an independent investigation of issues related to the district's high school football team and hiring practices for board member spouses.

Jill Renz-Whitman, who recently resigned from the board weeks before her term was scheduled to end, made the comments during Monday night's board meeting.

She said she had heard requests for one of Kiona-Benton City High School's football coaches to be fired following an incident involving a player.

Calling for an investigation of district hiring practices regarding spouses of board members, Renz-Whitman specifically referenced the school board chairman's wife, who has worked as a substitute in the district since Tim Cook has been on the board.

When board member Wayne Elston questioned Renz-Whitman about whether she really wanted such an investigation, she asked him if he was threatening her and said she was clear about what she was asking for.

"I'm off the board, I'll say what I want," she said.

Cook told the Herald that the board will discuss whether to investigate at its next meeting Oct. 28.

Renz-Whitman was elected to the board in 2009 but can't seek re-election because she has moved out of the area of the district her seat represents. The remaining board members appointed Leslie Johnson, the sole candidate running for Renz-Whitman's seat, to finish out the term.

Renz-Whitman, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, defended the board's actions during her tenure. She said curriculum review was instituted to make sure instruction was up-to-date and a grants manager hired who's brought in tens of thousands of dollars to district programs and projects.

She said she resigned in early September because of personal agendas and vendettas that are not in the best interests of the district's students. She also said a decision by the board earlier in the evening to have Superintendent Rom Castilleja handle labor issues, instead of a contracted attorney, was setting him up for failure.

"I will not be part of something out to destroy someone's livelihood," Renz-Whitman said.

Cook said the situation with the football coach is connected to an incident with a football player who has since left the district. A player reportedly received a minor punishment for disrespecting an assistant coach while the coach was demoted, though he has since returned to his prior position.

"We're still looking into this because there's so much that doesn't make sense," Cook told the Herald.

Cook said his wife has worked as a substitute paraeducator and secretary in the district since he's been on the board. He said he consulted with the Washington State School Directors Association to make sure that wouldn't be a violation and understood that it was not a problem.

However, Cook said he received new information that his wife's employment could be problematic and he's taken measures to recuse himself from votes or handle information about her work that could lead to a conflict of interest.

"I don't want anyone to think I did anything wrong," he said.

Renz-Whitman's husband also works for the district. She voted, along with the rest of the board at that time, to hire him as a custodian in April 2009. He was promoted to a senior custodian position later that year but was demoted soon after when the district was found to have wrongfully bypassed a longer-tenured employee for the position.

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