Ki-Be principal on paid administrative leave will work in district office until end of school year

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 12, 2014 

About 50 Kiona-Benton City students walked out of school Tuesday to protest recent actions by the Kiona-Benton City School Board, including putting principal Wayne Barrett on administrative leave and the transfer of Holly Graham from the girls wrestling team to the middle school team. Some carried signs reading, "Bring back Holly."

SARAH GORDON — Tri-City Herald

BENTON CITY -- The principal of Kiona-Benton City High School -- who's been on paid administrative leave since late February -- will work in the district office before departing at the end of the school year.

Wayne Barrett's move was one of several announced by the school board Monday. More than 60 people attended the meeting, requiring it to be moved from the usual room at the back of Ki-Be High to the performing arts center inside the school.

The executive director position, held by Vance Wing, will be eliminated at the end of the school year, though it's unclear if that means Wing will leave the district.

High school girls wrestling coach Holly Graham, who sought an anti-harassment order against board Chairman Tim Cook earlier this year after a dispute over his daughter's role on the team, will lead the girl's team at the middle school.

The moves will better position the district and its schools for the future, board members said while reading from prepared comments.

Many at the meeting criticized the board's decisions.

"There's obviously an agenda of people you want to get rid of," said parent Clark Carlson before Cook cut him off and told him he was finished.

Board members and district officials have refused to say why Barrett was put on leave. He has been with the district for seven years.

Barrett will be a special projects administrator under the direct supervision of Superintendent Wade Haun for the remainder of the school year, Cook said. He then will leave after graduation to pursue a superintendent's position elsewhere. Barrett will continue to receive his same pay and benefits until his departure.

Assistant Principal Shawnta DiFalco, who has filled in for Barrett during his absence, will finish the year as interim principal.

"Having both of these capable people in their new positions allows the district to make the best and most efficient use of its available administrative resources," Cook said.

Eliminating Wing's position as executive director, which includes duties as an athletic director and overseeing curriculum, will save the district money, the board said. The duties will be split among other district and school administrators.

Cook refused to say if Wing also was leaving after the school year. Wing did not discuss his future plans during his regular report to the board.

Wing recommended Graham be moved to the middle school wrestling program, said board member Leslee Johnson. The move is not a demotion, and Graham will receive the same pay she did coaching the high school team.

"The reassignment will allow Ms. Graham to work with younger students whose development is critical to the continued success of the district's wrestling program," Johnson said.

Many members of the girls wrestling team, some in tears, asked the board to reconsider Graham's move. Some said she had done much to grow the team and make it more competitive. Most said they would not participate next year if she didn't return as coach and some middle school students said they wouldn't join the team once they reached high school. A few said the board should not let their personal issues interfere with their duties.

"Why are you taking away the one person who supports me the most?" one wrestler said, choking up.

A parent and female student said they supported the board's decision, though, with the parent remarking that only one side of the issue was being addressed by commenters. The student said Graham hadn't been fully supportive of all wrestlers during her time on the team.

"If a coach isn't doing her job, then she shouldn't be keeping (her job)," the student said.

Some parents said they didn't buy the board's reasoning for the moves. Carlson said these were only the latest administrative and coaching changes in recent months and wondered who else would be removed.

Former board member Jill Renz-Whitman asked the board to say who would still be with the district following the changes, seeking a definitive answer as to what the elimination of Wing's position meant. The board directed her to write her question down and submit it for a formal response.

"Tell us who is attached to the position. You can't do that?" she asked the board.

A few spoke in support of the board's work, commending members for what they do and reminding them that they were elected to do the job.

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

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