Ki-Be's ongoing troubles detrimental to students

By the Tri-City HeraldDecember 4, 2012 

Things are bad at the Kiona-Benton City School District.

Yes, we've said that before, even recently calling for the superintendent's ouster to help the district move forward from the mess it finds itself in.

Grievances from the teachers union are at rapid pace and costing the district thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend, often unsuccessfully. It is clear that administrators and teachers are at odds on many issues.

And it has become increasingly apparent that the school board is divided, with one member recently indicating that much-needed change only would come if three board members were removed.

Then came a decision not to allow public comment at a recent meeting. It didn't help matters that the person wanting to speak was a Ki-Be teacher who has taken issue with the dismissal of two longtime substitute teachers earlier this year. One of those substitute teachers claimed she was let go because she disciplined the son of school board member Jill Renz-Whitman. (More on this later as Renz-Whitman appears to be a lightning rod of controversy in the district.)

The teacher is not alone in questioning the dismissal and the district recently offered a paltry settlement to the two educators to try to defuse the controversy, which has dogged the district since March. But even the settlement was suspect because the full board hadn't been informed of the offer, according to some members. And even that claim seems to be disputed.

The bad behavior just keeps getting worse.

A school board member and her ex-husband are claiming one of their sons was bullied by a teacher. The interaction between teacher and student occurred after the student had spoken during the public comment period at a school board meeting, ironically.

The teacher apparently expressed her displeasure with the student's comments after the meeting. And that set off a chain of events including a letter of "direction" for the teacher's personnel file and an investigation by a third party, which found no evidence of intimidation or harassment.

This is not the first time board member Jill Renz-Whitman and her family have had issues in the district. Two grievances have been filed in relation to Whitman's husband's, job as a custodian at the district. He had been given a day shift even though an employee with more seniority had requested that position. Arbitration resulted in the senior employee being put on the day shift.

But that wasn't the end of the problems for Rob Whitman. The custodian's union filed a second grievance a year later because the same senior employee and a co-worker had been fired on charges they had falsified records. The union called it retaliation for the battle over the day-shift slot with Whitman, and an arbitrator ordered the district to rehire the employees.

The teachers union got involved with the Renz-Whitman family after a teacher was disciplined for questioning why attendance records for some pupils were changed, including that of a Renz-Whitman son. The teacher's record was cleared of the reprimand, but the attendance records were not restored, leaving still more questions.

And that's what we all have a lot of: questions. The lack of transparency from the district's leadership only contributes to the air of secrecy and questionable dealings.

Prohibiting public testimony at regularly scheduled school board meetings is absurd and amateurish, and we were shocked to hear that this recent incident wasn't the first time that had happened.

The whole mess in Ki-Be is exhausting and it smacks of outdated small-town politics. A district of its size should not have nearly so many problems or be making so many headlines.

It's unfortunate that we have to continue to write about the bad behavior of grown-ups who should be the district's leaders when it's the students who should be everyone's primary concern and topic of discussion.

The kids deserve better.

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