Letter removal: Richland school officials won't be disciplined

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 22, 2014 

The seven Richland School District administrators involved in the decision to remove the concrete letters at Fran Rish Stadium and Carmichael Middle School will not be disciplined, district officials said.

The officials included the principals of Richland and Hanford high schools and Carmichael Middle School, Richland High's athletic director, the assistant superintendent for secondary instruction and the executive director of support services, according to a memo from Superintendent Rick Schulte to the Richland School Board following a district investigation.

The removal of the beloved letters two weeks ago sparked a firestorm of criticism and more than 50 people attended the school board's meeting last week, many to condemn the action and the disconnect between the district and the public.

Neither Schulte nor the board were informed about the removal of the letters ahead of time and there were no written documents ordering the work, the memo said.

The board is expected to discuss Schulte's findings at its meeting Tuesday.

"As a general rule, projects of this size do not require advance approval from the superintendent or the school board," Schulte said in the memo. "Nevertheless, given the unique nature of the letters and the strong attachment many people have for them, better judgment would be to seek broader involvement in the decision."

The administrators requested the letters -- which were installed by students decades ago -- be removed for safety and supervisory issues. Also, since planned safety upgrades at Fran Rish would have possibly led to the "R" and the "H" being moved or damaged, "this seemed like a good time to proceed," Schulte wrote in his memo.

Some administrators have contested their role but everyone named in the memo was part of the discussions, he added.

The district's maintenance and grounds director acted following the discussion among the other six administrators. A contractor was paid $5,600 to excavate the two stadium letters, as well as the "C" behind the middle school, district officials told the Herald.

"These staff are excellent employees who work hard to help RSD students succeed," Schulte said in the memo. "We are ready to move forward with constructive solutions."

The district received numerous angry phone calls and emails after the Tri-City Herald reported the letters were removed two weeks ago.

Some suggested they would reject the district's maintenance and operations levy up for renewal in February in retaliation or suggested that school board members step down.

Schulte and then-board Chairman Rick Jansons released an apology a few days after the letters were removed, saying it was a mistake and would be investigated.

Jansons also committed $500 of his own money toward replacing the letters or installing some other symbol for the schools.

District officials have asked voters not to reject the maintenance and operation levy -- which provides more than $20 million a year and covers 18 percent of the district's annual budget -- out of anger about the letters.

Rejecting the levy would affect the athletic and other extracurricular programs that use the stadium where the letters were, as no state or federal money goes toward those programs, said John Deichman, a levy proponent who met with the Herald's editorial board Tuesday.

"People really need to think in-depth about what they're doing," he said.

Any letter replacement or new symbol will have to wait until safety upgrades to the stadium are complete, officials said.

The hillside where the "R" and "H" were, next to the visitor bleachers, will be excavated to improve the seismic strength of the bleachers. The area where the letters were is needed to store earth and other materials during that work, according to an architect working on the project.

"If the district desires, after the scope of the earthwork is fully defined, we can visit the stadium with a contractor and discuss the letter situation further," wrote Brian Johnson of CKJT Architects in the letter to a district administrator. "This cannot be done at this time."

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

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