B.G. board slammed over Bria

School district residents angry over secrecy tied to $401,715 buyout

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Given a chance to speak, Battle Ground community members berated the school board for not telling the truth about the $401,715 buyout of former Superintendent Shonny Bria.

Monday night's special meeting provided the first opportunity for public comment since the buyout of Bria was announced June 26.

"It's inconceivable to me that the board would apparently lie to the media," said Walt Elliott, a retired Amboy resident. "The public wants the details. I can't believe you've led us down the road of untruths."

Elliott was referring to public records requests made by both The Columbian and The Reflector in May in which the district did not respond truthfully. The board apparently kept the buyout a secret from even high-ranking district administrators for two months.

"Could we have done things better? Sure we could," said Mavis Nickels, board member and retired district teacher. Nickels made it clear she was speaking on her own behalf, and not the board's. "That means we have to accept the responsibility," she said.

About three dozen community members attended the meeting, but little more than half a dozen made public comment.

Noting that transparency in the district's leadership had been scarce, Stephanie Etulain, an eighth-grade teacher at Tukes Valley Middle School, said, "I ask the board to operate in the light of day."

"Talk to the public, own what the public is angry about," Jill Ziegler, a district paraeducator, told the board members. "Take ownership so that when the new board is seated and we have a new superintendent, we'll have a system to be proud of. Instead, we have this cloud over us that's a little discouraging for the people who work in the trenches — the classrooms — every day."

Three board positions will be determined in the November election. John Idsinga and Steve Pagel are not running for re-election. Board member Monty Anderson is running.

No evaluations

Also revealed Monday is that "there are no written performance evaluations of Shonny Bria," according to Trudy Storey, the district's paralegal who was responding to The Columbian's July 8 public records request for the board's last four evaluations of Bria.

Cathy Golik of Battle Ground Citizens for Better Schools said that going forward, "we want a clear definition of monitoring the new superintendent. Then a clear definition of what happens in case of termination. It's really not rocket science."

Audit requested

After the meeting, Duane Rose, the district's acting superintendent, told The Columbian the district "is being proactive" by requesting an accountability audit from the state auditor's office.

Recently, The Columbian reported that Tina Watkins of the state auditor's office said the school board's agreement with Bria "is on my radar." Watkins noted that she'd read the newspaper stories about the Bria agreement and has kept copies in the district's file.

Rose and Lynn Hicks, acting deputy superintendent, made an appointment with Watkins and requested the state auditor's office do an accountability audit of the district as soon as possible. The audit is expected to be performed the second week in September.

"They'll help us clarify what they can. Give us direction," Rose said. "It's a step in the right direction."

The district had a positive accountability audit earlier this year. The next accountability audit wasn't scheduled until late 2014. The audit will be paid for by the board's budget. Monday night the district was unclear how much the audit would cost.

'Clean the mess up'

Board president Idsinga said an accountability audit will "clean the mess up. The new board can move forward."

During public comment Monday night, community member Dick Rylander, who also had requested Bria's performance reviews, asked the board: "Why were annual performance reviews not done and committed to record? Given there were no performance reviews conducted and recorded, on what basis did the board choose to pursue separation from Ms. Bria?"

"No written evaluations? I am appalled," said Margot Moorman, a retired teacher from Spokane who moved to Battle Ground recently. Moorman said as a teacher, she was evaluated three times a year.

"Honesty, integrity and trust are essential to maintain the confidence of residents and voters," Rylander said.

"This board, based on its conduct and actions associated with the Shonny Bria situation, can only be seen as out of touch with those values and expectations. As such, the board members should tender their resignations and step away," Rylander said.


Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com