Benton City — The principal of Kiona-Benton City High School was placed on paid administrative leave early Monday morning, though district officials would not comment on the reason.
Superintendent Wade Haun visited Wayne Barrett in his office at the school and asked him to leave the building before classes started, Haun told the Herald following Monday's school board meeting.
Barrett's leave is not related to any matter involving a student or former student, Haun said, nor a criminal investigation. But the superintendent declined to comment when asked if Barrett's leave is related to a staff complaint or a district investigation.
Barrett could not be reached Monday by the Herald.
Barrett, who has been the school's principal since 2007, received a Distinguished Principal Award from the Association of Washington School Principals in 2011. The high school also has seen improvements in some of its standardized test scores during his tenure.
But Barrett has been the focus of several teachers union complaints and grievances over the years and staff had circulated petitions seeking a no-confidence vote in him. The same year Barrett was recognized by the principals' association, he was disciplined by the district and reprimanded by the Benton County prosecutor's office for threatening to cut a rosary from around the neck of a student with a pocket knife.
Steve Lindholm, a state teachers' union representative, said the union has had many issues with Barrett in the past, but he isn't aware of any recent problems between Barrett and his staff, nor was the union planning to file anything regarding him.
"We are trying to de-escalate our action out there," Lindholm said.
Barrett's removal is the latest in a series of upheavals that have rocked Ki-Be in recent weeks.
Superintendent Rom Castilleja resigned in late January, signing a settlement agreement that will pay him until June 30 and provided more than $10,000 in accrued vacation pay. His tenure was punctuated by regular conflicts with the district's employee unions, costing the district tens of thousands of dollars in judgements and legal fees.
Haun, who was elected to the school board in November, resigned from the board about a week after Castilleja stepped down. The board appointed Haun as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.
The high school's girl's wrestling coach, Holly Graham, filed a request last week for an anti-harassment order against school board President Tim Cook. She alleged Cook was abusive toward her during a recent wrestling meet in which his daughter was competing. Cook has declined to comment on the matter. A judge will hear the request today.
In other business Monday:
w The board had to redo a vote on its consent agenda from the Feb. 10 meeting because board member Ivan Howard voted for his daughter to be hired as a cook for the district.
Howard said he knew his daughter, Ivy Minnick, was listed as a new hire. Cook said it is permissible for board members to vote for the hires of relatives that aren't their spouses but Howard wanted a new vote with him abstaining to remove any potential conflict-of-interest. The other three board members revoted unanimously in favor of that consent agenda.
This is the third time in the past several years that the family member of a board member received a district position during that board member's tenure.
Former board member Jill Renz-Whitman voted for her husband 's hire as a custodian in April 2009. Castilleja received a letter of reprimand in October 2013 for allowing Renz-Whitman to vote on that hire.
Cook was criticized by some community members after his wife was hired as a substitute in 2013. However, because her hiring was handled by Castilleja and not the board, Cook said no policies or laws were violated.
w The board voted 3-1 to appoint Tawny Garrett to the seat vacated by Haun in late January. Board member Wayne Elston was the dissenting vote.
Garrett was one of three people interviewed by the board during the meeting. The other two candidates included a business owner and a Kennewick School District middle school science and math teacher.
Garrett said she could bring a fresh perspective to the board. She added that she's experienced in crisis intervention, has volunteered in the community and feels the district has great staff, she said.
The newest board member is a stay-at-home mom with one young child and her second is due to be born later this year.
This story was edited to correct wrong information regarding district hires related to board members.
w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; email@example.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald