News

New School Board member making enemies

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

A city education leader publicly blasted a new Federal Way School Board member this week, questioning the member’s integrity, ethics and qualifications.

In doing so, she also voiced the concerns of some parents, board members and other local education leaders, reflecting the undercurrent of discontented grumbles flowing through the community’s grapevine.

Teri Hickel, the Federal Way Education Foundation director and president of the grassroots organization Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools, denounced board member Evelyn Castellar at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Hickel said she’s “deeply concerned” about Castellar, and went on to read snippets from two e-mail messages Castellar sent regarding her position on the hotly debated middle school decision.

In one e-mail dated Jan. 28, Castellar wrote to board president Ed Barney. In it, she chastised Barney, writing, “I am going to bring back some (courage) for you” from Honduras, where she had been the last two months to help operate a free medical clinic.

Hickel, referring to that e-mail, said she took offense to Castellar’s comment, “I do not fear that Tom” (school district superintendent Tom Murphy).

In the same e-mail, Castellar wrote, “I do not fear that Terri Hickel (sic). I will stand by reason, fact and truth.”

“What do you have to fear of me?” Hickel asked Castellar after reading the e-mail passage.

Hickel went on to denounce Castellar’s ethics and said she “lacks integrity.” She ended her comments with, “I do question Evelyn Castellar’s qualification to serve the community of Federal Way.”

Castellar remained quiet during Hickel’s comments but later said, “It’s hotter here than in Honduras.”

Later in the meeting, Castellar briefly referred to an e-mail Hickel re-portedly sent Barney in January. Castellar said the e-mail was an attempt by Hickel to coerce and threaten Barney into moving up the board’s middle school decision date in order to help secure the passage of the district’s educational programs and technology levies. The measures passed Feb. 3. The board voted Jan. 27 to proceed with construction of a middle school after questioning earlier if the project, approved by voters in 1999, should go ahead.

Castellar described the e-mail as “threatening to vandalize his (Barney’s) property if the middle school decision wasn’t moved up.”

Hickel admitted to writing and sending an e-mail to Barney, but added that Castellar’s interpretation is wrong.

“I was disgusted with the School Board and their antics and their conversations, and it was right before this important school levy that hundreds of us have put in hundreds of hours to work on,” Hickel explained. “I was angry with Barney and Castellar because they didn’t participate at all in the school levies.”

Hickel said she has long since deleted the e-mail she sent Barney. But she said she wrote, “‘If you can’t find it in yourself to vote yes for this middle school, then delay the vote until after the levy so we can concentrate on one thing. Too many people are working on this and it is too important for the board to ruin it.’

“And they probably see this as a threat. I said, ‘P.S. I will drop off 1,200 (levy campaign) yard signs to your house so you can run the next campaign.’”

Her account of the e-mail’s message matches Barney’s account.

Barney said he didn’t interpret Hickel’s e-mail as a threat, but rather just a way for her to “let off steam.”

He said he quickly deleted it, told no one about it and didn’t respond.

“I didn’t take it that way (as threatening), but I guess somebody could have if they read it that way,” Barney said. “And I didn’t even say anything to anybody about it, so I don’t even know how Evelyn heard about it.”

Castellar later explained her comment of “I do not fear Terri Hickel” referred to the e-mail Hickel sent to Barney.

“I would like a revote (on the middle school decision) just based on the e-mail Teri Hickel sent. What would you call that? Coercion,” Castellar said.

She said she’s angry that the middle school vote was unexpectedly made while she was still out of the country. She said she’s upset she wasn’t notified of the agenda change. The vote was originally slated for Feb. 10, when Castellar was scheduled to be back from Honduras.

A revote on the middle school decision is unlikely. It’s possible only if one of the three board members who approved the original plan to build the school for the 2005 school year change their minds. So far, none of those board members –– Bob Millen, Barney and Earl VanDorien Jr. –– have indicated a change of heart.

“I am tremendously grateful for what Teri Hickel does for our community,” Castellar said. “I was shocked because we’re not like close friends, but we run in some of the same circles. I have respect for her. But to go off and attack me like that ... Maybe she was overzealous for a moment.”

But Hickel reiterated the seriousness of her stance.

“This is not a game,” Hickel said Wednesday. “This is serious business, and we can’t afford to have a person like her infect the direction and accomplishments of the school district. Too many families are involved, and it takes years to recover from poor leadership.

“I’m concerned that she doesn’t understand that she represents the people. I think she’s arrogant and I think she’s willing to mislead. I don’t think she’s qualified and I would support her resignation (or) a recall.”

While there are murmurs of criticism about Castellar among some district parents, including Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools’ vice president Audrey Germanis, no effort to recall Castellar –– who ran unopposed in last November’s electon –– or push her to resign has surfaced.

Germanis said she’s irritated that Castellar missed the middle school public forum in January even though the board member indicated that public feedback was important in helping her make a decision.

“I’m keeping a really close eye on what she’s doing,” Germanis said. “I would support an investigation. I don’t think she’s there for our children. I think she’s gone in with an agenda.”

VanDorien said he agrees with some of Hickel’s public denunciation of Castellar, but added that he doesn’t support the idea of a recall effort.

Recalling Castellar, he said, would test the finances, patience and time of the school district, school board and voting public.

But he said if he were in Castellar’s position, he would gracefully resign.

“I’m not going to sit back while other board members berate the staff, question their integrity and publicly chastise the superintendent as Evelyn did,” VanDorien said. “I’m going to fight for the hard-working staff that we have. Personalities have got to mesh, and most importantly, egos have to be put aside.”

He added that he and Castellar used to be on friendlier terms.

“I don’t like having bad relationships. It’s my nature to try to repair relationships. I’ve done that with Evelyn and she’s refused it,” he said.

In light of the squabbles, Barney suggested bringing an intermediary to the board to help diffuse the tension.

“It’s amazing how the morale of this board has changed,” he said.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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