LA CONNER — The La Conner School Board still isn’t saying how it will follow up on union accusations against the district superintendent, but La Conner isn’t the only place where school leaders are facing challenges by employee unions.
About a week after the employee unions of the La Conner School District requested the removal of the district’s superintendent for what they deemed poor performance, the School District issued a statement late Friday saying it is continuing to work on the issue. It had Superintendent Whitney Meissner send the statement.
“The La Conner School Board is committed to acting in the best interest of our school district and all employees and students,” the statement said. “We are taking the concerns of our unions seriously. We are proceeding in a thoughtful and deliberative manner following district policy as we consider all perspectives being shared with us. The board will continue to work closely with our superintendent as we proceed.”
Citing negative management practices, poor communication and ineffective leadership, members of the district’s two employee unions — the La Conner Education Association (LEA) and the Public School Employees (PSE) — on June 7 issued “no-confidence” votes against Meissner.
Such votes are rare, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood.
This year, however, unions in at least four of the state’s 295 districts, including La Conner, have issued such votes. Others include Puyallup, Centralia and Chimacum, from which Meissner came to La Conner in 2017.
“When educators take a vote of no confidence, it means their superintendent is failing to focus on what matters most in every school district — their students,” Wood said in an email. “If you don’t have the confidence of your teachers and staff, how can you successfully lead a school district?”
In Puyallup, the school board received notice of no-confidence votes against Superintendent Tim Yeomans in the spring, Board President Chris Ihrig said in an email.
Among other things, the unions claimed in a news release obtained by the Skagit Valley Herald that Yeomans had eliminated more than 120 jobs this school year and “instigated the first-ever teacher strike in Puyallup.”
Teachers in that district went on strike for three days at the beginning of the school year, the release states.
They were not alone. Teachers in many districts across the state — including Concrete, Conway, La Conner and Mount Vernon — either went on strike or threatened to do so during salary negotiations last August.
At issue was millions of dollars in increased funding from the state as part of the state’s response to the 2012 state Supreme Court McCleary decision that required the Legislature to adequately fund basic education. Much of that money was earmarked for educator salaries.
In Puyallup, that resulted in an approximate 10% increase, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. For La Conner, it was 27%.
The unions in Puyallup have not requested meetings with the board but have suggested Yeomans step down now that the school year is over, Ihrig said.
Before the no-confidence vote, Yeomans had already declared his intention to retire after the 2020 school year, and the board is already looking for his replacement, Ihrig said.
The board does not expect Yeomans to leave before schedule, Ihrig said.
“The board is committed to doing what is best for the district both in the short and long term, and that includes continuing working with Dr. Yeomans in his leadership role,” he said.
Chimacum School Board Member Mike Gould also said his board was not considering terminating the contract of Superintendent Rick Thompson and was not meeting with union representatives.
In that district, union representatives claimed Thompson had intimidated and shown a lack of respect for educators, accelerated decline in student enrollment and showed a lack of respect for the families, climate and culture of the community, according to a news release.
Thompson has approached the board with his own ideas for an improvement plan, Gould said.
“We’re working with the superintendent to find a solution,” Gould said. “You just keep walking forward.”
In La Conner, the unions have requested a follow-up meeting with the board by July 19, though the board has not said if it will do so. The district’s next regularly scheduled board meeting is July 22, following a July 15 study session.