Kiona-Benton City School Board member says hiring of another member's spouse not illegal

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 28, 2013 

Editor's note: A quote near the bottom of this story was clarified after it was originally published.

BENTON CITY -- A Kiona-Benton City School Board member said the district's hiring of another board member's spouse did not violate state law.

Board member Leslie Johnson reviewed the hiring of board Chairman Tim Cook's wife. While district hiring policy is unclear and should be revised, she said the temporary hiring of Cook's wife did not involve a contract and so wasn't handled by Cook or any other member of the board.

Superintendent Rom Castilleja was asked to begin revising the policy during a Monday night board meeting, but board member Dan Raap said the district still should report the issue to the state. No other board member thought the matter needed to go any further.

"I think we need to stop investigating it," said board member Leslie Johnson to scattered applause. "It's costing the district time and money."

Former board member Jill Renz-Whitman called for an investigation of district hiring practices at a recent board meeting, referencing Cook's wife's work as a substitute educator and secretary.

Cook has said his wife worked for the district, but he had no role in her hiring. She worked for 18 days and is no longer employed by the district.

State law allows a board member's spouse to work as a substitute teacher in the district, though it doesn't discuss administrative posts, Johnson said. Most specifically, board members are not allowed to have a role in hiring their spouses for a contracted position.

But Castilleja handled the hiring, meaning no board member had a role.

Raap said it would be in the district's best interest to not only revise policy to make hiring practices clearer but to report it to state officials.

"We need to fix it before the auditor gets here," he said.

Johnson and board member Wayne Elston disagreed with Raap. Johnson argued that if the issue is reported, the district should look further back to make sure all similar past similar cases also be reported. However, she agreed hiring policies should be rewritten.

"I think we should change it so that no one can work here if your spouse is a board member," she said.

Johnson added state law allows people who are district employees prior to their spouses election to the board be allowed to remain in their jobs. However, the district should prohibit itself from newly hiring any board member's spouse, even temporarily.

Also Tuesday:

w Cook said rumors that the board is looking to buy out or fire Castilleja are untrue.

The rumors have been spoken throughout Benton City and in the schools, he said. He said everyone in the district needs to be held accountable, from the board down to the schools, but that Castilleja is the district's superintendent.

"The rumor mill needs to stop," Cook said.

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

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