Apr 9, 2008

ESD 113 Board re-opens applicant pool

This is how I spend my spring break: watching the ESD 113 Board eat lunch. Oh, and discuss important business, including two new agenda items addressing the Olympia School District's inability to fill its District 2 seat, vacated when Rich Nafziger abruptly resigned.

After all the experience watching the Olympia School Board go through 2007 Election II: Son of Rancor, it's somewhat surprising to see people having reasonable, non-fractious discussions of ongoing issues. (It's also good for one's perspective to remember that the Olympia School District is only one of many in the region--at present, our problems pale in comparison to the struggles of North Thurston, the district that's praying its scaled-back levy passes in May.)

The tables are arranged in a horseshoe facing a projector screen, and observers--Olympian reporter Venice Buhain, a teacher from McClane Elementary, myself, and a few ESD staffers, and Marilee Scarbrough, Policy and Legal Services director for the WSSDA--sit in a horseshoe outside the horseshoe. Vice Chair John Gott says that this is because the Board wasn't expecting visitors, and jokes, "We can put your chairs in the center if you like."

The initial informal debate: whether Kansas won, or Memphis lost, the national championship. That settled, the meeting commences at 12:09.

Out of kindness, the Board moves to discuss the additions earlier than their standard agenda position. The first, a proposed amendment to Policy 1250. The amendment reads,
Candidates submitted by the local school board members will be considered for appointment. In addition the ESD 113 Board of Directors may solicit and consider additional candidates as it may find to be appropriate.... from a pool of qualified candidates by majority vote.
Given the next item on the agenda, this is certain to be adopted after the second reading.

Up next: the Action Item, the detailed process for appointing a local director when the usual process fails. The discussion here livens up a bit. Dr. Bill Keim notes that the last time the ESD had to step in, it wasn't because of conflict, but because of a lack of applicants. There's brief talk of declaring an emergency, given the urgency of the budget problems facing the Olympia School District, but that won't be considered until later.

If you've been reading The Olympian's comment boards, you'd think there was a grand conspiracy among the "good old boys" (and a girl) to ensure that John Keeffe is the heir apparent to Nafziger's throne. That's deflated quickly in the meeting. Remember what I wrote above about perspective? The Board Members--who, for better or worse, come from other districts--haven't been following the controversy. Dr. Keim, remarking on the Olympia School Board's wrangling, says on multiple occasions, "We don't know what their process was." He mistakenly thinks that the only candidate dropped from consideration, Kevin Douglas Donahoe, quit when he heard the position wasn't paid. (Donahoe was voted out unanimously in a rare moment of solidarity.) Various ESD Board members don't even know if all the candidates are interested in continuing.

Even more deflating to the conspiracy theorists: Howard Coble, Olympia's rep, is the one who moves to open up the applicant pool again, advertising it as soon as possible. His words:
I think we have a very important responsibility to the Olympia School District to choose a candidate that best serves their needs. In doing so, we want to help them solve some of the divisiveness and move back together. I would argue for advertising for additional candidates as a backup, and not be limited to those three people that were considered.
Motion passes. So much for the automatic Keeffe ascendancy.

After a brief discussion over some of the finer points, John Gott makes a motion:
It seems to me that we need to have a very carefully thought out plan for conducting these interviews, and to that end I would like to have the following Board members constitute a subcommittee to wrestle that problem and get us prepared to do that. Dean Winner (former Director), Bill Brumsickle (former principal), and Howard Coble (OSD rep) to develop a system for us to use in interviewing these candidates that would assure that we are objective and fair and evenhanded in our consideration of the candidates.
Winner notes that he's going to be out of the country after April 30th, so things would have to move quickly. "To the best of my knowledge, sir, you are not excused," says Gott, to general laughter.

And, with that, the wheels are in motion. All previous predictions are moot; we don't even know who will comprise the final pool of applicants. At least the ESD Board recognizes the importance of moving quickly, openly, and fairly. We'll see if they can get the job done.

Tentative Dates
Monday, April 14: The ESD will verify that the position is unfilled, and request contact information for those still in the running.

Wednesday, 4/16: Post the invitation to all qualified and interested parties in the district, including the three remaining candidates.

April 25th: Deadline for applicants to submit their information to the ESD.

May 2nd: Arrange interviews.

May 14th, 10:00 a.m.: Interviews around noon. Executive session, then concluding in business session, and, hopefully, selection of an applicant.

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