Potential ballot measures and a possible contract extension were a few of the things on Sequim School District’s interim superintendent Dr. Rob Clark’s mind at a recent work session.
Clark, who filled the role vacated by former superintendent Gary Neal, met with board directors on Sept. 12 in a work session that included prospective board directors Larry Jeffryes (prior to his selection as an interim board member), Eric Pickens and Beth Smithson.
Clark said his intent wasn’t to sound self-serving, but that a decision on a permanent superintendent must come soon with potential ballot measures — to renew the district’s enrichment levy and possibly a bond measure for new construction — being proposed in Nov. 2020 or Feb. 2021.
“This district has not had a lot of stability in the central office with multiple superintendents and you’re currently without an HR director,” Clark said.
“One of the things that is my goal is to bring stability to this district.”
Operating on a one-year contract, Clark said he’s “going to work my read end off from now until June 30.”
“I mean this sincerely: I could care less if you’re fair to me,” he said. “You do have to think, ‘Does this district want to go through a full meal deal superintendent search, which will take two months if not three?’ Then that individual has to put up one probably two ballot measures.”
Clark said it’d behoove the board to have him for another year.
“I struggle with that tremendously because that’s not my intention,” he said. “I want this to be a decision the new board makes in December. If they want to go out in a search, I’ll support that. If the new board asks me to stick around a year or two, I would do that.
“I don’t think this district wants to spend the summer of 2020 meeting a new superintendent. I don’t want that to sound self-serving, even though it probably does.”
Board chairman Brian Kuh commended Clark’s honesty.
“If that’s not a demonstration of how transparent he is, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Board director Brandino Gibson said it’d be hard to develop stability with an interim superintendent.
“Knowing this community, without showing stability, it’s going to be a struggle to get (ballot measures) passed,” he said.
Clark said when he was interviewed, he knew the position wouldn’t only be a one-year job. However, he said if the new board doesn’t want to extend his contract, they should begin a search immediately.
Board director Jim Stoffer said a timeline is crucial for the district because the district’s enrichment levy and state funds from demolition of the Sequim Community School will expire.
“Myself and others can do a lot of the prep work,” Clark said. “It’s going to be tough for someone to sell someone else’s work. It’s not impossible.”
Gibson said Neal inherited bond issues and pursued them at the board’s direction and after failed ballot measures, he pursued a capital levy plan for the Community Kitchen.
Smithson thanked Clark and said of the parents and teachers she’s spoken with, “morale is already better” in the district in his short tenure.
Kuh said “restoring stability” is “absolutely critical as all our problems with facilities haven’t gone away and aren’t going away.”
On public comment
Part of the workshop involved reviewing policies for board directors and the superintendent’s communications with each other and the public.
Clark wants any positive or negative comments about staff — other than himself and board directors — be made in writing and submitted to the board chairman.
“Criticizing the board and super, it’s fair game (at meetings),” he said.
Kuh said he disagrees with the sentiment that all public employees are “fair game” for public discussion.
“I believe they’re fair game, just not in every venue,” Clark said. “If someone wants to come in my office and be critical of an employee, that’s fair game, but in this venue (boardroom), it’s not.”
Clark said board directors can speak to the public about him and discussing policies and building conditions are appropriate conversations with administrators, but not about staff.
On decision making
Whether a decision is made in a 3-2 vote or 4-1, Clark said it’s been made as a team.
“When we walk out of here, we’re all 100 percent in favor of the decision,” he said.
How they treat each other matters too.
“Our relationship sets a model for the rest of the district,” Clark said.
“It doesn’t mean we need to agree on every single item. We need to function as a team. If we function as a team, then that sets an example for the rest of the district … When we do disagree, we disagree civilly.”
On future goals
Along with bringing the school district’s strategic plan back on track following a leadership change, Clark said he is eyeing a more frequent curriculum update plan and renewal process. Along with that, administrators and teachers could explore possible obstacles such as Core 24 graduation requirements and scheduling in Sequim schools.
Jeffryes said, “Core 24 always come up.”
“If there’s anything creative that can be done with the schedule, then it needs to be looked at to help alleviate the pressure,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean we have to change, but it’s wrong not to have a discussion on it,” Clark said.
In 25 years leading schools, Clark said his philosophy has changed about reserves.
“When I was first a superintendent, we were making 4 or 4.5 percent on reserves, but now we’re making about 1 percent,” he said.
“The biggest calamity a school district faces now is enrollment decline … If the roof caves in, we probably have insurance. A lot of the problems like that you face can be dealt with.”
He said a cash reserve for a district like Sequim should have a no more than 6 percent of its total budget in reserves for enrollment shortfall.
For more information about Sequim School District, visit www.sequimschools.org or call (360) 582-3260.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.