Battle Ground school board admits "violating trust" over Bria departure

Board admits lack of transparency in letter written with no public observers

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

Updated: August 27, 2013, 7:51 PM

 
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Open letter from Battle Ground school board

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The Battle Ground school board acknowledged Tuesday morning that it violated the public’s trust in its handling of the departure of Superintendent Shonny Bria.

Bria left in June with a severance package of more than $400,000 that had been negotiated behind closed doors two months earlier. The board kept the agreement a secret, even going so far as to tell staff and the public that Bria would get no payouts other than her accumulated sick leave. A state accountability audit is expected to determine whether board members violated the state’s public records and open meetings laws.

District administrators have requested the audit, which may happen by late September, said Lynn Hicks, the district’s acting deputy superintendent.

Meanwhile, board members have dealt with criticism from the Battle Ground community, although John Idsinga, board president, said Tuesday he thought “most of it has calmed down.”

On Tuesday morning, the district released a letter written by the school board at its meeting Monday night.

The letter states: “In recent weeks, lack of transparency has caused us to violate the trust of those we serve. Late last spring, we believed it was in the best interest of Battle Ground Schools to support Shonny Bria’s desire to retire so the district could transition to new leadership. … Unfortunately, as we navigated the leadership transition, we failed in our responsibility to openly share the facts.”

How the school board came to decide upon releasing a letter isn’t clear.

The letter was not on the regular meeting agenda, and there was no indication in the public portion of the meeting that a letter was going to be discussed.

Idsinga confirmed that the letter was not discussed during the regular board meeting.

Instead, after the agenda was completed, the board went into executive session to discuss undisclosed personnel issues.

Idsinga said the discussion lasted longer than planned, and when the board emerged from its secret session, everyone else had left.

At that point, board members discussed and signed the open letter to school district patrons, Idsinga said.

“The letter was drafted by the board. We all had input into it over a period of time,” Idsinga said. The board had first discussed writing the letter “weeks ago,” Idsinga said. He noted that it was brought up after Bria’s June 30 departure.

“Last night, we put the sentences together and signed it,” he said.

The letter was released Tuesday morning by Gregg Herrington, the district’s communications director.

When asked whether he considers the letter an apology, Idsinga said, “Yes.”

“We are all volunteers. We aren’t professionals,” Idsinga said. “There are some things you learn as you go.”


Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com.