‘Interim’ or not? Superintendent contract talks continue

Sequim school board unsure over interim superintendent title

Sequim School Board directors are continuing talks about a one-year extension to interim superintendent Rob Clark’s contract, but spent more time at the board’s Jan. 6 meeting talking about whether the “interim” tag should remain on his title.

Directors this week had a brief discussion about Clark’s contract to keep him with the district for one further year plus one option year past the expiration of his current contract on June 30.

While no terms were discussed in the meeting, Clark noted that he was seeking copies of similar contracts in the state to give the board a point of comparison.

Several board directors noted the inherent instability an “interim” title suggests, and said the district needs stability now with Clark preparing details for a bond initiative on the November ballot.

But as board director Brian Kuh and others noted, Clark’s intention to only stay for one or two more years essentially leaves him as an interim until a long-term hire can be made.

No decision was made on the interim title, and board directors indicated there would need to be more considerationbefore a decision can be finalized.

CTE in focus

Steve Mahitka made a presentation to the board about Sequim High School’s Career and Technical Education program, highlighting the program’s work to improve the options and future for SHS students.

The board recently approved a five-year plan for the CTE program at SHS, and Mahitka spoke briefly about that plan but more at length about their implementation of the Skillmation program started in Port Townsend to give SHS students even better access to knowledge in their chosen industry.

Mahitka also noted that he wants to start bringing more CTE programs to Sequim Middle School, which currently has few CTE classes.

“We want to expose these kids to as many options and experiences as we can,” he said. “Kids don’t know yet what they like, so we need to help them find that.”

Mahitka also noted that the CTE program will be receiving a federal Perkins grant worth $27,245 to help pay the salary of a career counselor at SHS, the Skillmation program costs and buying monitors that will be put up around SHS to advertise CTE activities and other school programs.

The idea of those monitors was received by the board, especially student representative Payton Sturm, who said she was excited to use them for her ASB activities.

There are two upcoming CTE program events that Mahitka is organizing: a STEM Night that will give practical examples of several CTE program areas on Jan. 16, and a Skilled Trades Day that Mahitka is organizing for Feb. 19.

Other business

• Clark has previously noted his desire for a policy review committee in board meetings, and told the board that he found records of the work done by a previous such group in the Sequim School District he can use as a base to organize a new one, as well as pulling from work from other policy committees around the state. The idea received enthusiastic support from each board member.

• Clark noted that a payroll issue that delayed payments to some district employees at the end of December was a “banking glitch” that was outside of the district’s control but was quickly resolved, with the last payments being made by 3 p.m. on the day they were due, instead of being in accounts by 8 a.m. as normal. Kuh said that based on his experience working for financial institutions and knowing how such issues are normally resolved, that turnaround time was “remarkable,” and that he was happy with how Clark and his staff handled communicating the issue to district staff

• A first draft of the district calendar for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years was shown to the board, with school starting the week before labor day in both years and ending on June 14 in both years. Clark noted that after survey data gathered from staff and parents, spring break was being aligned with the Port Angeles School District. Some details remain to be finalized, with Clark saying that the biggest decision still to make will be whether parent-teacher conferences will stay as four days of early release, as it’s been done in recent years, or if the district will take two full days off for the conferences, with a waiver from the state so those days won’t need to be made up.

• A new tobacco policy update was unanimously voted into place, but board directors Larry Jeffryes and Eric Pickens noted the board will need to better address non-tobacco vape product use in the near future. Clark agreed, and noted that new Washington state law makes it a criminal infraction for underage users to be caught with associated paraphernalia, and that the Sequim Police Department officer Kindryn Leiter, the district’s school resource officer, will be at a meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the issue with directors.

Trust lands funding at risk?

Income that the Sequim School District receives from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may be at risk thanks to a series of lawsuits levied against the state Department of Natural Resources over recently-implemented changes over logging plans on state forest trust lands that helps to fund various public institutions in rural areas.

The suits come in the wake of a December announcement that the DNR would be reducing timber harvest on those trust lands and implementing conservation plans for the marbled murrelet, a seabird listed on the federal Endangered Species Act that has been found to nest in some forest trust lands.

Rural school districts like Sequim receive funding from the sale of timber harvest on those lands, as do rural fire departments, police departments, hospital districts and libraries. According to finance reports presented to the school board in November and December, the school district received $4,332.48 in October and November from state forest timber harvest sales.

At that rate, the district would make approximately $25,994.88 over the course of a year from those funds, but as board director Jim Stoffer — who as part of his legislative duties for the board serves on the Trust Lands Advisory Committee — cautions, that money has rarely been a guarantee.

“The income is very inconsistent because there’s so much that goes into determining the totals,” Stoffer said. “And it hasn’t always even been ‘extra’ money for the 87 rural school districts that receive it.”

Stoffer is referring to a previous policy of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that saw them “claw back” the funding, as Stoffer put it, by reducing those districts’ apportionment funding from the state by the amount they received from trust land funding.

That policy was only overturned by current state superintendent Chris Reykdal after he took office in 2017 after what Stoffer called a “long battle” for districts to be able to essentially keep that funding.

Now that funding is at risk again, and Stoffer feels that a misunderstanding of what’s actually going on is to blame.

“Myself and others on the trust lands committee apparently didn’t do a good enough job explaining (the changes),” Stoffer said.

“We can’t maintain the harvest of trees at levels that occurred (in the past). It’s not going to be a dependable enough source.”

Stoffer noted that the state trust lands need to be diversified, and that despite common perceptions, forests are not the only trust land options that can produce these funds.

“There’s all kinds of options. Elsewhere in the country there are farms, mines, even shopping centers and malls that are on trust lands,” Stoffer said.

“We need to get creative if we want to preserve and enhance this funding stream.”

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