Kiona-Benton City school district superintendent resigns (with PDF)

Tri-City HeraldJanuary 22, 2014 

Rom Castilleja

Rom Castilleja

— BENTON CITY -- Kiona-Benton City School District's superintendent resigned during a closed-door school board session Tuesday, a week after state education officials said the district must pay back nearly $169,000 for misreporting enrollment figures.

Rom Castilleja's resignation is effective June 30, the end of the current school year.

He has been placed on sabbatical leave until then and will have no further duties, but will continue to be paid. He will also cash out 20 days of vacation for $10,195.

Castilleja did not return calls Wednesday. Board Chairman Tim Cook thanked him for the positive accomplishments during his time with the district and wished him well, but would not comment on a reason for his departure.

"I was a little shocked. I think we were all kind of shocked," Cook told the Herald. "The only comment I can say is he is on sabbatical leave."

Kim Scott, Ki-Be's finance director, will be in charge of day-to-day district operations while the board develops a plan to search for a new superintendent, Cook said.

A settlement agreement between Castilleja and the district says three letters of reprimand will be removed from his district file. The district and Castilleja also agreed to not disparage each other. Castilleja cannot pursue any legal action connected to his employment by the district.

The board was also set to discuss the state report on the enrollment figures during Tuesday's meeting. State auditors began looking at the district's enrollment records in the spring of 2013.

Ki-Be reported having the full-time equivalent of an additional 180 special education students during the 2011-12 school year, something district records didn't support.

The students were listed as needing special education before being evaluated and assigned learning plans, against federal procedures. The district attributed the error to the mistake of an untrained office manager that wasn't caught by the district's special education director.

Auditors originally estimated the district was overpaid by $260,000. Additional documentation from the district and clarifications on federal funding formulas reduced that amount by tens of thousands, but the district is on the hook to return $168,815 to the state beginning in March, according to a letter sent by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to Castilleja.

That's about 10 percent of what the district had budgeted for special education for the 2013-14 school year, according to budget reports filed with the state.

Because the bulk of the overpayment came as special education dollars, the state will withhold its regular allocation of those specific funds to the district until the amount is repaid, said Kristen Jaudon, an OSPI spokeswoman. That's a loss of about $95,000 in March, with the remainder to be paid back on the next state allocation.

The district hired Castilleja, who had been an administrator in the Richland School District, in mid-2007 at an annual salary of $108,000. His salary was $129,844 in 2013, according to state records, the third-highest for a superintendent in the Tri-City area.

Ki-Be, which has about 1,500 students spread between three schools, saw improved academic performance in some areas during Castilleja's tenure. The district also built a new high school and began offering full-day kindergarten ahead of a state initiative to do so.

However, Castilleja's administration has been plagued by controversy. Unions representing the district's teachers and other employees have filed numerous labor grievances, including for retaliation. Several resulted in judgments against the district totaling tens of thousands of dollars in compensation and legal fees.

Mark Noyes, a district administrator who reported directly to Castilleja, was accused of stealing district property and selling it through the online auction site eBay. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree trafficking of stolen property in Benton Superior Court and his trial is scheduled for Feb. 18.

Three board members who were protective of Castilleja have resigned or lost elections over the past few months.

However, Cook said in a November public meeting the board was not planning to remove the superintendent or buy out his contract.

Steve Lindholm, who frequently butted heads with Castilleja as a state-level teachers union representative, was as surprised as anyone when he heard of the superintendent's departure, he said.

Union leaders recently met with Castilleja and board members to work through grievances and other labor issues. Those conversations went well and the union's concerns are being addressed, Lindholm said.

"I'm more concerned on moving forward," he said. "Whether that was with (Castilleja) or without him is irrelevant."

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

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