Outside help may be needed to heal Highline board rift

New superintendent arrives July 1

The Highline School Board will most likely seek outside help in dealing with a formal complaint by one member against a colleague.

Board president Angelica Alvarez said at a special work study session May 7 that she would look into seeking a Washington State School Director Association (WSSDA) staffer to facilitate handling the complaint by Michael Spear against Susan Goding.

Alvarez’ statement came after Goding abruptly walked out of the session declaring, “I’ve heard enough.”

The May 7 public meeting had been rescheduled from an April 26 executive session to discuss the complaint in private. Goding insisted on a public meeting.

Spear’s official complaint against Goding was submitted early this year. But president Alvarez said she delayed dealing with it because the board was in the middle of its search for a permanent superintendent.

Interim Seattle Superintendent Susan Enfield, who didn’t seek the permanent position in Seattle in part because of a fractious board, was hired by the Highline board and will begin July 1.

Alvarez apologized to Goding and the other board members for not communicating well enough.

The board president first told Goding about the complaint when they were exiting a regular board meeting April 25 at Bow Lake Elementary. The executive session was set for the next evening.

“I didn’t want it to come out the way it did,” Alvarez declared. “It was unfair to Susan.”

Spear leveled three major charges against Goding. He said she violated open public meeting laws by communicating with board members through emails, mistreated district employees while not going through the proper chain of command and did not treat fellow board members with respect.

“We should work with staff without being negative or demeaning,” Spear declared at the study session.

Goding replied that a WADA staffer or lawyer should be at the meeting so the dispute could be facilitated by an authoritative person.

She noted she has not interrupted or cajoled staff members or board members at meetings recently.

She later declared, “I feel the board has to challenge the staff. It feels confrontational but you have to say what has to be said.”

To her colleagues, Goding said, “I am frustrated with your silence.”

Newest board member Tyrone Curry commented, “We know schools are struggling but talking about it in the public eye makes it look like we’re not doing anything about it.”

Spear pointed to an exchange of emails begun when the interim superintendent’s executive assistant outlined possible dates and times that Bang Parkinson, business services director, could meet with board members to train them on reviewing vouchers.

Goding supplied the email chain to the Times/News. Goding uses the email to ask Parkinson ten questions about vouchers and the district budget.

Parkinson replies to Goding that she has referred the questions to Assistant Superintendent Susan Smith Leland, who is the district’s budget director, and that Interim Superintendent Alan Spicciati will go over the questions with Goding.

Spicciati then emails Goding asking for a conversation to better understand the questions. Goding replies that the board needs an accounting system to tell the board how well resources are being used. Spicciati responds the state is requiring the accounting and the district will share the information with Goding when it becomes available.

The email exchanges appeared cordial and Goding noted at the study session that Parkinson had not filed the complaint against her.

Spear said that board members had not touched on his complaints at the meeting. He said Goding continuously emails all the board members, which he said is violation of open meeting laws.
Spicciati added that all the board members may communicate together by emails on informational matters but not on issues.

At that point, Goding walked out of the meeting.

The issues will most likely be discussed, possibly with a WSSDA staffer in attendance, at another work study session on May 23. The session will follow the regular board meeting scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Puget Sound Skills Center.

The “board development” workshop will focus on delineating the roles of the board and superintendent in advance of the new superintendent’s arrival in about a month.

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