News

Teachers may flunk School Board

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

The union that represents most of the Federal Way school district’s educators is considering a vote of no confidence in the School Board.

In June, Federal Way Education Association’s (FWEA) executive board will discuss whether to bring the question to the general membership. The union’s school representatives voted a few weeks ago to allow the executive board to debate the matter.

FWEA president Shannon Rasmussen said the no-confidence vote is one of several possibilities the organization is considering.

The group is mainly interested in who will fill the vacant chair on the School Board and having a board that “pursues positive student policies,” she said.

A no-confidence vote is “not the ultimate goal,” Rasmussen said, adding the union has discussed the issue over the last month. “We would not want to do it capriciously.”

If the executive board agrees to take the question to the general membership in June, the vote would happen shortly afterward, she said.

The possible no-confidence vote came to light when board member Evelyn Castellar spoke about it during the board’s May 10 meeting.

“We weren’t expecting that,” Rasmussen said Monday.

Castellar wasn’t available for comment Monday, but Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy said he understood Castellar had received an e-mail about the possible union action.

Board member Bob Millen said he was “a little surprised, but not shocked to hear” about the proposed no-confidence vote.

Murphy, who joined the district in 1988, said he isn’t aware of any previous no-confidence votes against the board or superintendent in Federal Way.

“I would hope we could work together to resolve any differences in a positive, proactive manner,” Murphy wrote in an e-mail reply to questions from the Mirror.

“I would hope if they (vote) they would at least tell us why,” said board member Ed Barney.

Rasmussen said FWEA hasn’t contemplated a no-confidence vote in the 10 years she has been on the executive board.

The School Board and the union have been at odds, and Rasmussen and other union members have spoken at board meetings on several topics, from contract negotiations to the state assessment test. That is happening with more frequency because FWEA is concerned about the board’s direction and decisions, she said.

Millen noted at the last two board meetings there have been large groups of teachers “to complain to the board about the board.”

Board member Charles Hoff gets some of the criticism for what Rasmussen said is his “increasingly negative” remarks about the district.

Hoff said he learned about the possible vote a couple of weeks ago while reading the minutes of the union’s executive board meeting. “I don’t know what their particular concerns are,” he said.

Castellar was also highlighted by the union, according to Rasmussen, for a comment that teachers didn’t do a good job of teaching facts.

Union members were also unhappy with some of the language in the district’s new instructional policy. They felt it was a sign of distrust from the board.

During last year’s election, a majority of the School Board supported a statewide charter schools referendum which FWEA opposed.

The board also spends too much time on non-education issues, Rasmussen added, pointing to the board officers policy that dominated board meetings and emotions earlier in the year. That policy proposal, sponsored by Castellar, failed when the district’s attorney said it would violate the law.

The latest item on the union’s list of complaints is altering the board’s agenda to have public comments near the end of meetings. It shows the board doesn’t respect the public, Rasmussen said.

Hoff, as board president, decided to have the public comment portion moved to the end to speed up meetings that are noted for lasting well into the night. People still have a chance to speak about issues on the agenda, but speaking about items not on the agenda were moved to the end, he said.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Federal Way-based Washington Education Assocation, the umbrella organization for FWEA and other local teacher unions, votes of no confidence from one of the locals occur once or twice a year. The two most recent were in Steilacoom and Puyallup, he said.

“It’s not something they do lightly,” Wood said.

Usually the problem starts with a lack of communication between the union and school boards, he said.

That was the problem in Steilacoom, according to Toni Graf of the Steilacoom Historical Education Association. That union took a vote of no confidence in its school board after contract negotiations fell apart.

“It had a tremendous impact,” Graf said of the vote. Afterward, both sides came to agreement on a new contract.

Opinion was mixed about how a no-confidence vote could affect the Federal Way district’s plan to present a multi-million dollar bond to voters next year to rebuild several schools.

“I really hope” there’s no affect, Millen said. “It’s two different issues.”

Rasmussen said it’s one of the factors FWEA’s executive board will consider.

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

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