By any estimation, a series of events last week acted as propellant for community concern and outrage in the Colville School District as cuts to teaching staff and debates about renewing the superintendent’s contract coincided with the annual “Rally in the Park.”
On Monday, May 14, eleven pink slips, also called Reduction in Force (RIF) notices, were sent out to district personnel at the same time that the Colville School Board considers renewal of Colville Superintendent of School’s Ken Emmil’s contract at the rate of $148,288 a year. On Tuesday, May 15, teachers helped put on the annual “Rally in the Park” event to promote community support of the Colville School District. The district said the RIF cuts were made in preparation for a decline in enrollment and funding. Current student enrollment at the Colville School District is 2,525 students, but only 2,250 are anticipated for the 2012/2013 school year.
The district is paid $8,466 per-student in state and federal funds, according to the state Office of the Superintendent. The loss of nearly 300 students could amount to as much as a $2.3 million loss to district coffers. With these financial issues in mind, community members packed the room to overflowing at last Wednesday’s Colville School Board meeting. Some attendees had to stand in the hallway and strained to hear the meeting, scolding others for crinkling paper or having their cell phone go off. The local teacher’s union, the Colville Education Association, had attendees wearing red tee-shirts with the slogan “Our kids matter; just say no.”
CEA Representative Jennifer Strand said the protest and show of staff force was to let the school board know the union felt the superintendent’s contract was being financially maintained while cuts were made to teachers and para-professionals.
“We are asking you to stop and reconsider a superintendent’s salary that is significantly higher than other schools in the area,” said Strand, citing Deer Park, East Valley and Clarkston as comparable districts that pay their superintendent less. “We are asking you to say no to the superintendent’s contract so you can say yes to the young, enthusiastic teacher who wants to come back. We want you to say no to 30 days paid vacation with a 12-day buyback so you can say yes to para-professionals. We want you to stop and reconsider so when we tell kids they matter, that is not just an empty statement.”
The protest was timely, as the renewal of Emmil’s contract has been delayed for two months via a Memorandum of Understanding between the school board and the superintendent. The Superintendent’s contract says the renewal must be made by March 1 of each year. Emmil, who didn’t attend the meeting, is currently under a three-year contract that expires on June 30, 2014.
The school board told the public at the May 14 meeting that Emmil was paid $167,249 with benefits during the 2011/2012 school year. The proposal for next year’s contract would be $148,288 with benefits. These specific compensation figures were discussed at the board meeting, but could not be verified through documentation, since the district declined to release a current proposal of the superintendent’s contract to the Statesman-Examiner. The district said releasing the proposed renewal contract could “jeopardize the successful outcome” of the contract negotiations.
Many at the meeting voiced concerns over specific provisions in the superintendent’s current contract, including the detail that the district will pay transportation, cell phone and travel expenses for professional development, as well as a $2,000 annual stipend for completing his doctoral coursework. The 2011/12 contract also provided a “performance bonus” of three percent of the current per-student apportionment for “maintaining, developing and implementing quality curricular and extra-curricular programs.” The contract also required a supermajority of the board (4 to 1) in order to terminate the superintendent, and if terminated, the superintendent would receive one year’s compensation. Along with the comment by Strand, the board accepted public comment in regards to the contract renewal. One man told the board the protest over the superintendent’s contract was not just about money, it was about trust. “This is not about Ken, but it is about a lack of leadership. I hope you see it is not just about the money,” he said. School Board member Duane Johnson disagreed with the comment.
“I disagree about the lack of leadership,” he said. “It was a big step for Ken to step back on the dollar amount of his contract and that is due to smaller enrollment….the financial situation at the state level has soured and that affects us, but it is just going to get worse.”
A self-identified “parent” also commented on the larger scope of the issue. “Parents have been denied participation in the review of the superintendent’s contract and the lack of transparency is terrible,” she said. “I am asking you to not renew the contract because this isn’t about money, it is about trust.” Colville School Board Member Eric Johansen spoke to the challenge of determining the superintendent’s contract and how the local community must be considered.
“We can do a comparative analysis between our superintendent’s contract and other districts, but this is just a starting point,” he said. “This is not Bainbridge or Bellevue and we have different values here. Quantifying those values on a spreadsheet can be difficult.”
One of the attendees asked the school board if they trust the superintendent, tapping into a sentiment that had been mentioned throughout the evening. Board member Eric Johansen said he feels “trust is earned.”
“It is essential to have trust and I do not feel the superintendent has deliberately said something is red when I know it is blue,” said Johansen. Board members Sarah Newman and Cheryl Fenno said they did trust the superintendent, but newer member Sid Green was not as committed.
“I can’t say I believe him 100 percent and I do believe at times he has misled us,” said Green. Board Chair Johnson said he is willing to err on the side of caution.
“I trust the superintendent until he has been proven guilty,” he said. “I feel like we have a judge, jury and executioner here tonight, but I do have to consider what is being said when it is from so many people. It is easy to irritate one or two or a dozen people. I do it all the time, but when there are so many people saying the same thing, we have to take it into consideration.”
The board decided to table the matter until the next meeting. Regular meetings of the Colville School Board are open to the public and are held on the fourth Wednesdays of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the District Office, located in Aster School at 217 S. Hofstetter Street in Colville. Coffee and informal conversation with the school board is held prior to the regular meeting from 6 to 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 684-7850.