Mar 19, 2008

Olympia School Board fails to choose replacement

After a brief and at times acrimonious debate [mp3], the Olympia School Board couldn't settle on an applicant for the District 2 position, vacated when Rich Nafziger resigned earlier this year.

The meeting opened at 6:32 as Russ Lehman, who had been felled by a stroke, returned, taking his seat to healthy applause. All three applicants and about twenty audience members attended.

The Board decided to have an open discussion, and started debate when Bob Shirley nominated Theresa Tsou, citing her expertise and the diversity she would bring to the Board. His motion rallied no support.

Lehman then nominated Paul Parker, noting his work on the Budget Advisory Group and his progressive vision. Shirley voted in favor, but Frank Wilson and Barclift voted against.

That left John Keeffe for consideration. Wilson mentioned his extensive previous experience on the Board and his focus on "the kids." The first member to specifically criticize an applicant was Shirley, who said he couldn't square that with Keeffe's previous statements about the opening being "right for him right now." Shirley characterized Keefe's attitude as self-centered.

Lehman, responding to Wilson, said, "Certainly no one who's on the Board more than a year should ever say it's about the kids." He described Keeffe's career on the Board as ineffective, saying, "It's unbelievable what little has been accomplished in those twelve years."

Wilson and Barclift, speaking strongly in Keeffe's favor, said their minds were made up, and voted for him, but the two votes weren't enough. Frustrated with the sharp dialogue, student representative Adam Buchholz described the resulting impasse as "kind of ridiculous," urging the Board to reconsider compromise.

Eventually, the Board voted to meet again on April 2, in closed session, to discuss the applicants. If they cannot reach a decision, representatives from ESD 113 will choose Nafziger's replacement.

The meeting adjourned at 6:59.

I'll add more should any of the applicants return my request for a comment. The Olympian's brief initial recap is here.

Update: Paul Parker writes, "With three capable and qualified candidates before them, it will be disappointing if the Board cannot find a way to make the decision and move ahead."

Ironically, Parker's most vocal supporter on the Board, Russ Lehman, doesn't share Parker's view, describing the other primary applicant*, John Keeffe, as ineffective in the past and wrong for the Board right now, spouting clich├ęs instead of substance in his public appearances. Lehman's hardline approach might have sunk Parker's bid, unfortunately, by pushing Keeffe's supporters away from a potential compromise.

Near the close of the meeting, Frank Wilson publicly expressed willingness to listen to Shirley and Lehman's side, though, so things may turn out in the end. If they don't, the decision falls on the ESD's Board, at which point the outcome is anyone's guess.

*Theresa Tsou gained only one vote to Parker's and Keeffe's two, though Lehman listed her as his second choice. Three votes are needed for a majority. The student representative's vote is symbolic.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, once again, for your live blog. I believe Shirley said John's statement was "self-serving" NOT "self-centered."

Also, Shirley stated he wanted to vote for Tsou because the district will be facing a science adoption soon and she has science and math expertise.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, I was paraphrasing; I don't see a real difference between "self-serving" and "self-centered," since the gist of Shirley's complaint was that Keeffe, when interviewed, started by talking about himself.

Your second paragraph helps expand on what I mentioned in passing. Thanks.

Glenn Blackmon, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your reporting on the board applicant meetings.

After last night, I decided to look more closely at what happens if the remaining board members cannot agree on a replacement member. It has been reported that the decision goes to the board of Educational Service District 113. I'm sure the ESD is well known to professional educators, but I don't think ordinary parents and voters know much about it.

It turns out that the ESD is a seven-member board whose members are elected by the members of the individual school board. So each director on each board in each district gets a vote.

The seven members are listed here:
Five of the seven members are former school superintendents; the other two are former school board members.

Each ESD board member represents a geographic area, and the member for the area that includes Olympia is Howard Coble. Dr. Coble was superintendent of the Olympia School District from 1973 to 1980. He is also a former director of the executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators.

An interesting (even amazing) quirk in the process is that if the local board fails to act, it still has a role in the ESD's process. The ESD works from a list of nominees submitted by the local board. This list is subject to majority vote of the local board. Only if the local board cannot agree on a candidate list does the ESD board look at other candidates. (This provision is an ESD policy and does not seem to be required by state law.)

Whether the new board member is appointed by the local board or the ESD board, he or she will serve until the end of 2009. This board position will be up for election in 2009, and the winner will serve the remainder of the term (until the end of 2011).

Ryan said...

This is a neat story to watch--thank you for covering it with the depth that you have!