Letters of reprimand scold former Ki-Be superintendent

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 4, 2014 

Rom Castilleja

Rom Castilleja

The former superintendent for Kiona-Benton City School District was reprimanded for not providing documents to school board members in a timely manner and for allowing a board member to vote to hire her husband.

The Herald requested the three reprimand letters originally in Rom Castilleja's personnel file that were removed as part of his settlement agreement with the district. The letters do not indicate whether Castilleja was penalized.

One letter said the district violated state law in hiring Rob Whitman as a custodian while his wife, Jill Renz-Whitman, served on the school board. She resigned in September, a few months before her term was set to end.

"The fact that Ms. Renz-Whitman was allowed to vote in favor of her husband's hiring by the district further compounds the violation, in the opinion of the board," the letter said. It was issued to Castilleja a month after Renz-Whitman resigned. Renz-Whitman did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Board Chairman Tim Cook signed all three letters. He declined to comment on them, citing the mutual non-disparagement clause in Castilleja's settlement agreement.

Castilleja said he protested the reprimands. He provided a letter to Cook saying it wasn't his responsibility to tell board members whether they could vote on an item.

"They were looking to pad my (personnel) file," he said.

Castilleja resigned Jan. 21. He will continue to be paid by the district until June 30 but will be on sabbatical and not perform any duties. He also will cash out 20 days of vacation for $10,195. He received an annual salary of $129,844 last year.

"The board and I didn't agree on how to run the district and they made me an attractive offer so I left," he said.

The settlement agreement also indicates Castilleja cannot pursue any legal action connected to his employment by the district.

The resignation came a week after state education officials told the district it would have to pay back nearly $169,000 for misreporting its special education enrollment numbers from the 2011-12 school year.

Castilleja's seven-year tenure with the district was a rocky one, with unions representing the district's teachers and other employees filing numerous labor grievances, including for retaliation. Several resulted in judgments against the district totaling tens of thousands of dollars in compensation and legal fees.

School board members asked about the circumstances related to Rob Whitman's hire for months, according to the reprimand letter issued to Castilleja in mid-October. "You have consistently denied knowledge of the action, or have evaded questions," the letter said. "We do not feel that you have been completely candid with us in this matter."

It is the superintendent's job to advise the board on possible violations and conflicts of interest, the letter said, adding that minutes from that meeting do not show Castilleja advised against the hire and two board members do not recall any advice being given on the matter.

"When Ms. Renz-Whitman voted to hire her husband as a district employee, she was essentially using her position to secure privileges for herself, because of her community interest in the earnings of Mr. Whitman," the letter said.

The hire was made as part of the board's consent agenda vote. Rob Whitman is still employed by the district as a custodian.

Reference also was made to a portion of Castilleja's contract, indicating he was obligated to follow state laws as well as policies, rules and regulations made by the board. This was followed by the terms for which Castilleja could be dismissed, including failure to abide by his contract, misrepresentation of facts or other matters to the board and unprofessional conduct.

"The board is hopeful that a similar situation will not arise in the future, and that we can continue, without distraction, in our mutual efforts to provide the best possible educational experience to the students of our fine school district," the letter said.

Castilleja said there wasn't agreement about whether the meeting minutes accurately reflected who voted for Rob Whitman's hire and if Renz-Whitman knew she was voting on it.

"It's not up to me," Castilleja said. "I was reprimanded for letting her vote and it wasn't up to me."

The two most recent letters of reprimand against Castilleja were issued in mid-December. One indicated the board was not provided meeting materials for a Nov. 25 meeting in a timely fashion, delaying the start of the public meeting.

"This caused inconvenience to our constituents and embarrassment to the members of the board," the letter said.

Castilleja was at a conference when he and his staff were preparing for the meeting, he told the Herald. Poor communication led to confusion about what materials needed to be provided to board members.

The board also didn't receive minutes from that meeting within two business days of its conclusion and that has also been an issue with other meeting minutes in the past, the letter said.

Castilleja said that was a result of the meeting taking place just before the Thanksgiving holiday and his staff being out of the office soon afterward.

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

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