Schmeck resigns school board director seat

The term for newly-elected Sequim School Board director Kristi Schmeck is over before it began.

The Sequim resident who filed for the office, unsuccessfully attempted to quit the race and earned the most votes in the Clallam County primary in August and general election in November, told school board president Brandino Gibson in an email in late November she is resigning her seat.

“I am just letting you know I will not be accepting the position of Sequim board director,” Schmeck wrote to Gibson on Nov. 26. “I had formally withdrawn from the election the first week in June. According to the PDC they are expecting me to honor my withdrawal.”

On Monday, board directors acknowledged the resignation and began plans for appointing a new director.

By district policy, the current four directors have 90 days to appoint a new director.

Director Eric Pickens, who was elected board president Monday night, said the open board position would normally revert to the director who had previously held the seat; however, Brandino Gibson, the at-large board director and former board president who held that spot, said he isn’t interested in returning to the board, Pickens said.

“We thought that might be a hiccup … (but) that aspect of it isn’t a concern anymore,” Pickens said.

The open board director position is an at-large seat, meaning anyone living in Sequim School District boundaries can apply.

The deadline for applications is 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10, district officials on Tuesday afternoon. Get an application at tinyurl.com/SSDboardapp or on the district website at sequimschools.org. Send applications by mail to: Sequim School District Office, 503 N. Sequim Ave. Sequim, WA 98382, or by email to tnorman@sequimschools.org.

Board directors are scheduled to conduct candidate interviews during the regular board meeting on Monday, Feb. 7, with possible appointment at the Feb. 22 regular meeting.

“I encourage anybody and everybody to apply,” board director Larry Jeffryes said Monday.

Candidate in, out of race

After signing up for the race for Director Position 4 (at-large) in May, Schmeck tried to remove herself from the four-person race in June but missed the county’s election withdrawal deadline.

According to documents from the Public Disclosure Commission, Schmeck in June signed a PDC document that she was terminating her campaign, that not campaign for her election, solicit or accept campaign contributions, and not make campaign expenditures, including from personal funds.

However, Schmeck remained on ballots in the August primary; county election supervisor Shoona Riggs said only a court order could keep Schmeck’s name off ballots.

Schmeck went on to earn about 29 percent of the primary vote, advancing to the general election with candidate Virginia Sheppard (28.6 percent). Rachel Tax (26.8 percent) finished third and Derek Huntington was fourth (15.6 percent).

She went on to win in the general election with 7,081 votes (55.9 percent) to Sheppard’s 5,408 (42.7 percent).

The day after the General Election, Schmeck told the Sequim Gazette that “I would love to serve and represent this community, it would be an honor for me” and that “I’m going to call the PDC and see what is required and what my options are.”

Superintendent search, shortage

In the midst of searching for a new school superintendent, Sequim school officials are now on the hunt for a lead administrator to oversee the district for the next six months.

Interim superintendent Jan Pryne announced her decision to step down in the middle of the school year in an email to school district parents and staff on Nov. 10.

Her last day is Dec. 31.

It’s unclear who would lead the district in Pryne’s absence; Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Maughan was placed on administrative leave in mid-September after alleging acts of discrimination/retaliation against her by Pryne.

Pickens said he has been in conversation with school administrators in the area but did not have a recommendation Monday night for who would lead the district starting in early January.

“We need to come up with a plan how to run the district,” Jeffryes said. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to have a person in place at the first of the year. I don’t want to wait until the month of January to figure that (position) out.”

Pickens said schools will be able to function in the meantime.

“I (have) a tremendous amount of confidence in our cabinet, our leadership team, our building principals; we’re going to be there to serve our students,” he said Monday. “We might need to get someone on board to make sure the trains are running on time … (but) at the end of the day, where the work is happening, that work is going to continue.

“I feel very confident moving ahead now … and for the next six months.”

Pryne, who had retired from her position as Port Angeles School Superintendent, agreed to serve as interim superintendent on Oct. 26, 2020 and then re-upped for another year at the board’s request in February. Then-superintendent Robert Clark resigned following a complaint in October 2020 that put him on administrative leave. (In late March, a district employee filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Clark that has yet to be resolved.)

Board directors on Monday also praised Pryne’s work over the past year-plus.

“Thank you, Dr. Pryne, for your service to the district; you put your heart into it,” Pickens said. “Our district overall is in a stronger place thanks to your leadership.”

Said Pryne, “It has been my pleasure to serve the Sequim School District for the past 13 months.”

Board elections

Pickens, who had served as vice president under Gibson, was unanimously voted president. Following his selection, board members unanimously voted to have Patrice Johnston — who earlier in the meeting joined the board as its newest director — as vice president.

“I will do my very best on behalf of all the city of Sequim,” Johnston said Monday.

In-person meetings

Pickens said Monday night he’d like to see school board meetings revert to in-person meetings — with a virtual component— as early as January, with the Sequim High School library as a possible venue.

Board meetings were last held in person on Sept. 7; at that meeting, some people in attendance argued to board directors against the mask-wearing requirement during the public comment, and school district officials canceled the remainder of the meeting. Since then, meetings have been held online.

“We’re going on three months now (virtually),” Michael Rocha said during the Monday meeting’s public comment portion. “We feel like we’re being kept out.”

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