Labor relations official to stay on at Ki-Be

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 11, 2014 

BENTON CITY -- The Kiona-Benton City School Board will keep a contracted labor relations official on the district's payroll, but at a much-reduced pay rate.

Attorney Eric Nordlof's new contract, which ends Aug. 31, will pay him $75 an hour, board members said during their Monday meeting. His previous contract paid $195 an hour.

Nordlof had been the intermediary between the district's employee unions and former superintendent Rom Castilleja, who resigned in late January.

The board had previously minimized his role in labor negotiations in Castilleja's final months with the district and even planned to not renew his contract. But board members said there is value in keeping him on contract.

"He's still doing arbitrations and he will work on contracts this summer," said board member Leslie Johnson. "The work seems to be going well with the new board."

Nordlof was brought in more than a year ago to help the district and Castilleja navigate a contentious situation with 1unions.

However, the relationship between administrators and other district employees didn't improve and the unions, particularly the Kiona-Benton Education Association, regularly filed grievances and unfair labor practice claims against the district.

A majority of the board voted in October to reduce Nordlof's role, saying it was the superintendent's responsibility to negotiate with employees. Some criticized that move, saying it was setting Castilleja up for failure.

Also Monday:

w Efforts to get the district's technology infrastructure back to normal following vandalism this past fall are in the final stages, said technology director Troy Jamieson.

The final software and hardware needed has been ordered and it looks like the district will be able to recover almost all its email files, he said.

"That was something that was uncertain but that's looking really good," Jamieson said.

The district's servers and other computer equipment were damaged in late October. The Benton County Sheriff's Office is still investigating the case but nothing was stolen.

Teachers and other district employees have been gradually getting back files as the recovery effort has gone on.

"You're saving us so much work," Jonie Ashley, a fifth-grade science teacher, told Jamieson during the meeting.

w The district will receive $78,000 from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to provide courses through a distance learning program.

The district is only receiving a portion of a much larger grant that will be split with two other districts, though Ki-Be is serving as the administrator of the money, said grants manager Joe Lloyd.

It's not been determined yet what sort of courses will be made available through the program. They could range from elective courses currently not offered to dual-credit courses through Columbia Basin College or another post-secondary institution, Lloyd said.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricity; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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