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School board divided before, after retreat
District emails show the Central Kitsap school board chose to go forward with its February retreat to Pacific Beach despite complaints from within its own ranks. At least one school board member voiced concern about not only the date and location, but the person chosen to facilitate.
The chosen facilitator ended up costing the district two or three times more than alternative options.
Emails retrieved through a public records request, which took a month to complete, showed that strong complaints were raised privately among the school board regarding every aspect of the retreat.
School board member Christy Cathcart cited apprehension about the date, location and facilitator to Superintendent Lynch as far back as early January.
All three details were decided and announced to Cathcart and other members of the board on Jan. 5. In his email to board members Lynch said the dates had been reserved at Pacific Beach Conference Center, 120 miles from the district office, and the facilitator had been scheduled.
Cathcart had indicated in December that she was not available for a retreat in February and indicated in later emails that she felt her lack of availability was ignored in the decision-making process.
According to Superintendent Lynch, Feb. 1 was chosen because it was the first date that a majority of the board could attend and “special arrangements” were offered to board members who could not attend.
Lynch said that he did not act independently in choosing the retreat’s facilitator. From emails gained through the records request it is clear that Lynch discussed the choice of facilitator with school board president Mark Gaines.
However, Cathcart said while she could not speak for other members of the board, she did not receive any notice about options until Lynch and Gaines had already decided on a facilitator.
“I was surprised on the fifth of January to find out it was all a done deal — location, facilitator and date,” Cathcart said.
The facilitator Lynch and Gaines chose was Karen Simmonds, an attorney who had worked for the district in the past. Simmonds, a partner at K&L Gates law firm in Seattle, was hired by the district for the Dec. 12, 2012, closed-to-the-public executive session in which the board evaluated the legitimacy of complaints made by board members against the superintendent.
Those complaints stemmed from the district’s loss of heavy impact funding last spring. Board members had complained about the superintendent’s conduct during that time.
In response to Superintendent Lynch’s pronouncement of the dates and facilitator Cathcart replied via email, communicating concerns with Simmonds’ work during the December executive sessions and how it might affect the upcoming retreat.
“I also indicated my preference for another option at facilitator,” Cathcart said. “The delivery, tone and actions during the hearing process were not the best nor were they appropriate for the facilitation needed for this board and a much needed retreat.”
Two days later, in an email to president Gaines, Cathcart declared doubt about whether her opinions as a board member had ever been taken into consideration.
“My comments on location and facilitator apparently were not even considered,” she wrote. “We are a five member board and one of the five is not available. Dismissing the comments of one member is not appropriate.”
School board member Eric Greene said this week that he felt Simmonds did “an okay job” facilitating the retreat. But he had suggested along with Cathcart that the board use a facilitator available to them through the Washington State School Director’s Association.
The association quoted the district $600 for half a day and $900 for a full day for one of its facilitators. The price of bringing in Simmonds for one day was $1,969.50.
The total cost of the retreat for the district was $2,600.90. Lynch, however, stressed that board members paid for their own gas to get to Pacific Beach and all waived the $50 reimbursement to which they are entitled.
Greene, who had previously defended the distance of the retreat, said he would not have done so had he known what would be on the agenda.
“We spent the vast majority of the time on operating principals,” Green said. “I would have thought we would have spent more time around the board leadership dynamic.”
Greene said he felt the meeting was productive, but he was hoping for more.
“We covered some things and talked about some things that needed to be talked about, but there were other things (that) we didn’t address (that) I would have liked to,” he said. “It probably wouldn’t have done any good to have the conversation I wanted to have without all five of us there.”
Cathcart continued to object to the details of the retreat and the facilitator. On Jan. 20 Cathcart sent an email to President Gaines and the other members of the board which stated:
“At the Dec. 12, 2012, school board meeting, a statement was read following the ‘hearing’ with Karen Simmonds, Esq. Included in that statement was this sentence: ‘Each Director is recommitted to the board’s operating principals, to working together with the administration in a collaborative, respectful manner, with integrity and with the best interests of the district at heart.’ “
Later in the email, Cathcart returned to the quote from the Dec. 12 executive session.
“What I find troubling, and what I believe the community that has elected us would find troubling, is that the above quoted statement is not being adhered to,” Cathcart said. “A board retreat should include all the members of the board and be facilitated by a more objective and removed facilitator.”