The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Justin Jaech
The Times 

Brown's position at Dayton School District uncertain

Dayton School Board delays vote on changes to administration included in Superintendent's recommendations proposal.

 

February 24, 2022



DAYTON – The Dayton School Board convened their regular meeting, both in-person and over Zoom, at 6 PM, February 16, 2022. Present were Superintendent Guy Strot, Chair Jeffrey McCowen, Vice-Chair Grant Griffen, Zac Fabian, Korinda Wallace, and Aneesha Dieu.

The meeting was well attended by the public, both in-person and online.

The Consent Agenda, consisting of past minutes and several personnel changes, mainly in the coaching staff, was approved unanimously by voice vote.

Before the first public comment portion of the meeting, McCowen gave an update concerning a group call initiated a few hours earlier by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. In the call, he said Governor Inslee would most likely announce the end of the mask mandate for most indoor activity in the following days which would go into effect for schools in March. The Governor has since announced the mask mandate for schools and most other indoor activity will be lifted on March 21. Healthcare facilities, school buses, public transit, prisons, and long-term care facilities will still continue to require masks.

Charles Amerein, Columbia County Commissioner, spoke during the first public comment period: “Hello, ladies and gentleman, my name is Chuck Amerein. I’m a member of this community and an elected representative [unintelligible], and I just wanted to say that it’s been quite clear for some time masks are infected, that the masking isn’t about safety or health, it’s about compliance, it’s about teaching blind obedience and I don’t think that’s something I’d like to see happen because the safety of this nation depends on the future of the kind of people we raise in it. And if we raise people who are afraid, which is what this is, this is a symbol of afraid, of being afraid of catching the cold, being afraid of catching something that has a 99.8 percent survivability ratio [sic] and so, if you’re afraid of that you wear a mask and you’re a good person – made a virtue out of being afraid -- and I don’t agree with that. I’ve caught the COVID, I’ve been in the hospital with COVID and you know what? I just happened to be one of those lucky people who had a really bad reaction to it but I still don’t think this is the right thing. I wouldn’t want anyone else to signal that they’re afraid of something that probably isn’t going to do them any harm just to be a good citizen. When you start doing things like that, then you start doing other things. You start ostracizing, othering [sic], you start making other people the enemy. You start thinking less of yourself and start listening to what you’re told to. And I’m not for that, I’m for a strong, independent, self-reliant, critical thinking type of population because that’s only thing that keeps government from being despotic, and I didn’t really plan on speaking tonight and this is all coming from off the cuff. Heretofore, at the Columbia County Commissioners we have never, I think, initially when it was bad, I did wear a mask because I thought it was actually something to be afraid of. I thought that this thing has a two percent mortality rate. Two percent? No, four percent actually. Four percent would have been forty people dead on our community. I though that’s a big number. You gotta be ready for that. And as we kept the international traffic open and they had flights coming in from China this thing was raging where they had no other restrictions, they did nothing all that time. They told people not to wear masks because they couldn’t get enough of them. When they told people to wear anything, you know, these stupid cloth masks which they’ve actually admitted don’t work. These are all things that say this isn’t near as bad as they made it out to be, and we’ve been reacting this way all this time, setting a bad example for the children, showing them that it’s alright to be afraid, that’s what you should be. You shouldn’t be smart, you shouldn’t think critically, you just do what you’re told and that’s what I object to and I don’t think that’s [unintelligible] now that’s just my opinion. Thank you.”

As of February 16, 2022, Columbia County has 601 COVID cases recorded, 56 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths, this calculates to a death rate in Columbia County of two percent (not 0.2 percent) and the hospitalization rate is nine percent.

Pearl Dennis asked what the financial impact might be if the DSD chose to end mask mandates now instead of waiting until they are officially suspended in March.

Strot said $289,000 of state funding would be at risk of being withheld monthly.

Grace Trump gave the ASB Report, and the Elementary and Secondary principals also shared their respective reports with the Board.

Sam Korslund was not available to give his report as Athletic Director.

Strot reported that as of the time of the meeting, one staff member was out with COVID-19, and no students presently have COVID-19.

He said he intended to lift the mask mandate for students and staff as soon as allowed, but anyone who wished to continue wearing a mask could do so. This option would apply regardless of vaccination status.

Strot also reported on the enrollment numbers in the district. In June 2021, there were 386 K-12 students, which has dropped to 336 students presently.

Veronica Perez gave the Budget Status Report. She emphasized the impact of declining enrollment on school revenue. A loss of 30 students results in a decrease of revenue to the schools of over $260,000. The general fund balance is forecast by Perez to drop from $899,268 last year to $360,261 this year.

Pearl Dennis raised a point of order concerning public comments on the evening’s agenda. She said the board would be voting on item 13, the recommendations by the Superintendent, after the public comment period, making any comments on the subject irrelevant to the action.

The public comment period was followed by an executive session, for which the stated purpose was to “review the performance of a public employee.”

Following the executive session, the action item was scheduled, listed as Item 13.

The Superintendent recommendations to the Board were contained within a written presentation made available to the Board and the public online. The presentation mainly highlighted the district’s problems, principally the migration of students from Dayton to surrounding schools. Most of the recommendations closely followed Strot’s improvement plan, which he has been developing and presented in the past, both to the Board and public forums.

New to the recommendations in item 13 is an effort to expand a partnership with Walla Walla Community College to offer greater learning opportunities.

What apparently brought the public in force to this meeting was a new item, titled “Reorganize administrative structure.” This item would have the elementary school principal act as principal for grades K - 7. The Superintendent would act as both superintendent and high school principal. The recommendations propose three new positions: two teachers on special assignment (TOSA) for academic support and a K – 8 dean of students.

“So first of all, I’m a little annoyed that the agenda item comes out after executive session when we know we lose a lot of people at that point instead of being up where there might be fuller attendance. So, I’m kind of annoyed by that and just a question, are you anticipating taking action on that... tonight? I can understand reviewing it as perhaps as an agenda (item) seven report, but in terms of action item, I don’t think these things have come before the Board before. It’s big! It’s got a lot of meat to it, and I don’t understand why it’s kind of sneaking in here at the bottom without a lot of notice to the community or dialog with the community. So, I am concerned that you are thinking of actually taking some action on that item,” said Dennis.

Strot responded, “And we were planning on taking action on it, and the reason for the executive session is there are some personnel names that are associated with it that we are going to talk about in executive session. It will be a very quick executive session. That’s the reason why...”

Dennis said, “I think it’s a lot to try to push through at the end of a – at the very tail end of a school board meeting that as far as I can tell, and I try to keep track of these things, as far as I can tell there was no notice, or not much notice to the community, unless something kind of just leaked out and somebody happened to see it in the packet and maybe told their neighbors. That’s not the way, in my opinion, that’s not the way to effect changes that are this big.”

Dennis was referring to the proposed administration restructuring Strot added to item 13 of his recommendations. Many were in attendance after seeing the change in the board packet posted online shortly before the meeting. The restructuring would eliminate one administrator, keeping Amy Cox as the Elementery School principal for grades K-7 and Strot acting as Principal for grades 8-12 and District Superintendent. This would mean Kristina Brown would lose her position with the district.

This was not discussed in prior presentations or workshops with staff or the community.

After approving policy readings, a surplus sale, and school calendars, the Board went into executive session which was expected to last for about ten minutes.

The Board reconvened about thirty minutes later instead of ten minutes. McCowen announced the Board would not be taking any action tonight but would defer action until the next March meeting.

Strot presented his recommendations to the board in open session. He did not clarify his position on the administrative shake-up or specifically explain what Brown’s employment status would be at the district.

At the end, although it was not a public comment period, Dennis asked how the plan is being coordinated with the staff and the community.

McCowen said the board would be voting on the entire Recommendations by the Superintendent proposal at the next Board meeting on Wednesday March 2, 2022. It is also possible for the board to only approve sections of the proposal. There will be public comment at that meeting before any action. Since the restructuring item has not been publicly workshopped, interested parties should reach out to the district before the meeting with questions and comments. The proposal is available on the Dayton School District website. Superintendent Strot said he could be reach by email or phone.

The meeting adjourned at 8:11 p.m.

 

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