News

School Board implosion continues

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Bob Millen says lately he's been asking himself one question: "What in the world am I doing on this board?"

Millen, a Federal Way School Board member, said he is embarrassed to be associated with it –– but doesn't intend to resign –– because its members have been publicly bickering with each other over several months.

The group's meeting Tuesday night was no exception.

Most of the meeting between 7 and 10 p.m. had board members and citizens commenting on two agenda items: A resolution supporting a statewide charter school referendum, and a proposed policy to rotate the board's officers based on seniority.

People spoke for and against the issues, as did board members –– some of whom also objected to each other's comments toward one another.

Even before the matter came up on the agenda, there was disagreement about a proposed policy for rotating board officers.

Board member Earl VanDorien Jr. and Millen tried unsuccessfully to have the policy stalled on a procedural point. VanDorien argued the policy should be a "first reading" and not a "second reading." Typically, boards consider new policies three times –– as information, a first reading and a second reading. Each time the board hears about the matter, members can ask questions and makes comments or offer amendments. After the second reading, the board can vote on the policy. A vote on the rotation policy is expected at the Oct. 12 meeting.

The policy was only at first reading after being presented for the first time at the board's Sept. 14 meeting, VanDorien claimed. "This was fast-tracked," he said.

Board members Ed Barney and Evelyn Castellar disagreed, saying it had been presented via e-mail to the board before the meeting.

"We're not doing business by e-mail," VanDorien countered.

Castellar added she brought the matter up in December and again in August. She is the primary sponsor of the policy and presented it Sept. 14. Citizen response then was mixed and passionate, with some against the policy and some in favor. Millen and VanDorien didn't support the policy, stating the current system of picking board officers worked well.

Also, VanDorien and Millen, along with some citizens against the policy, said they didn't want Charles Hoff, the senior board member, as president. Castellar and other citizens said it was time, and fair, for Hoff to lead the board.

Currently, the board nominates and elects annually its president, vice president and legislative representative at a December public meeting. Politicking goes on behind the scenes.

Castellar gave a PowerPoint presentation at Tuesday's meeting, detailing how her proposed rotation system would work –– even figuring possible future changes. That raised the ire of VanDorien when Castellar presented one outcome of the 2005 election, saying he would be replaced and Barney would "win by a landslide."

"That's totally unacceptable," VanDorien said of Castellar's comments to Barney, the board's president.

Then Castellar denied she made the comments, and VanDorien insisted she did.

"I did not," she said.

As the back-and-forth exchange went on, members of the audience began laughing.

"Everyone who heard (Castellar's statements), please raise your hands," VanDorien said to the audience. Several people did.

Castellar noted until VanDorien was president in early 2002, the board rotates its officers without a policy. Looking back to 1998, Castellar showed the vice president became the president during the board's annual election. That changed in February of 2002, when the presidency was vacated by Ann Murphy who resigned from the board. After three months in office, VanDorien was elected president by the board and Hoff remained vice president.

Since then, the board has not rotated its members through the officer positions, Castellar said. After VanDorien was president, Millen was president from December 2003 to the next December. Next to Millen's name on the screen was the sentence, "After only seven months on the board and not by election of the people." VanDorien was vice president and next to his name on the screen was, "Why?" Barney was elected president last December, Hoff as vice president and Castellar the legislative representative.

According to Castellar's rotation policy, she would become president in December 2005 if it was followed.

Millen questioned Castellar if the board had to follow the rotation schedule. What if the board chooses not to vote for the president based on the rotation schedule, he asked.

The schedule was only to keep the rotation from being confusing, Castellar said.

"You can make this as different as you want," she said, to which Millen pronounced the policy has "no teeth" because the board could ignore the schedule and policy and continue its current system.

In fact, Barney said, state law requires the board to hold an election.

But school district superintendent Tom Murphy, who was silent most of the night, said the board could be violating its members' oath of office if it chose to ignore one of its policies –– assuming the rotation policy passes.

VanDorien wondered if the proposed policy could supersede state law and asked that the district's attorney be consulted on the matter. Castellar said she checked and the policy and law didn't conflict.

And then the board went back to the underlying issue: Hoff.

Millen and VanDorien had said at the first September meeting they couldn't support Hoff as president. Their sentiment was the same Tuesday.

Hoff didn't say anything during the discussion, and VanDorien took Hoff to task for that, saying he himself would be embarrassed to have someone fight for him.

Then citizens gave their opinions.

"Do you guys do any actual education work any more?" Nancy Papineau asked.

Papineau and Shari Cotes agreed Hoff had the votes to become the next board president –– Castellar, Barney and Hoff have been voting together lately –– but said they were concerned with Castellar becoming president in 2005 under the proposed policy. Cotes and Papineau have criticized Hoff and Castellar in the past.

"Who takes Evelyn's place when she's in Honduras?" Papineau asked. Castellar has a ranch in Honduras and visits twice a year for a couple of months each time, working with villagers. She has been condemned openly by critics for her trips and missing board meetings.

Mark Laurel, a candidate in last year's election for the board seat retained by Hoff, proposed the board consider a rotation go into effect after the current members no longer serve.

Steve Skipper suggested the rotation start after the 2005 election. He also criticized the board for its behavior, and said having a controversial president might not be bad and supported Hoff for the post.

Dennis O'Neal reminded the board it needed to remember who they are responsible to.

"You work for us," he said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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