Amid months-long confusion over a proposed switch to K-6 elementaries in the Centralia School District, the Centralia Education Association took a vote of no confidence Monday in Superintendent Mark Davalos.
The CEA, the teachers’ union, also voted to show opposition to the new K-6 model configuration and is arguing that language in the voter-approved school construction bond doesn’t require the Centralia School District to change any of its schools to a K-6 model.
“We would not be breaking any code of conduct or law to not fundamentally use that bond money for the K-6 transition,” said Centralia Education Association co-chair Lauri Johnson. “... I don’t think it’s too late. ... This is not beyond help, but they better get their act together in that school board.”
Centralia School Board President Amy Buzzard said that while the district could still legally stick with its current K-3 and 4-6 elementary school configuration, the board is not considering it.
“I suppose legally we could do it — it’s our decision,” Buzzard said. “But we built two schools based on a K-6 model, so that’s not something we would do. … Our decision was made not just by us. This was a long process, and by changing our mind at this stage in the game, (the district) would be discrediting all those people who have worked to get us to this point.”
Buzzard said the reason all elementary schools will shift to the K-6 model is to make the elementary schools in the district more consistent. Buzzard said the conversation to change all five elementary schools to this new configuration — not just Jefferson Lincoln and Fords Prairie — began before voters approved the bond.
“We did due diligence on asking and we heard all those voices and took everything into consideration,” Buzzard said. “This is a process we have been in since 2016.”
In a press release, Buzzard disputed many claims from the CEA and Johnson.
“A recent press release from the Centralia Education Association stated that an ‘overwhelming majority’ of 95 percent of teachers in our district voted ‘no confidence’ against Superintendent Mark Davalos,” Buzzard wrote. “We do not find this statement to be an accurate representation of the meeting. The CEA will not share how many of their members were present at the meeting in question, but various sources put the number between 75 and 100 — or about 1/3 of our teachers.”
Johnson wrote in a text message that 112 of the 210 CEA members were present at the Monday meeting. The CEA sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon that said 95 percent of members voted no confidence in Superintendent Mark Davalos. Later that day, Johnson said nearly 88 percent voted that they oppose the new K-6 configuration.
“As soon as that conversation started (Monday) about the transition and configuration of grade levels, it was heated and heartfelt — tears,” Johnson said. “People said ‘What has he done to this town? This is not the same Centralia district we have had.’”
In February 2017, voters in the Centralia School District approved a $74 million bond to construct, renovate and improve school facilities. At the time, the bond passed by narrow margins with just under 62 percent of the vote — bonds require a 60 percent supermajority to pass in Washington.
The district advertised a full like-new remodel of the high school and two new elementary schools to replace Jefferson Lincoln Elementary School and Fords Prairie Elementary School, with a K-6 configuration.
Currently, the Centralia School District has five elementary schools — Jefferson Lincoln (K-3), Fords Prairie (K-3), Edison (K-3), Washington (4-6), Oakview (4-6) — and uses a K-3 and 4-6 configuration.
According to the resolution voters approved, improvements to the elementary schools included removing the portable classrooms, building schools that housed approximately 525 students and transitioning to K-6 elementary school models for Jefferson Lincoln and Fords Prairie.
Davalos told The Chronicle last week that the two new elementary schools will no longer use portable classrooms. In June, however, Davalos told The Chronicle that each school would be able to hold between 425 and 450 students.
Buzzard said there was a public hearing for this change, but did not know the specific date. Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Ed Petersen did not respond to request for clarification Wednesday evening. Davalos did not respond to request for comment and it is unclear at this point how many students the schools will be capable of housing.
The resolution voters approved does not say that all elementary schools will change to the K-6 configuration.
“Configuration wasn’t part of the public vote,” Petersen said Wednesday afternoon. “That is a school board decision. That’s something the board does, not something the community votes on.”
According to the resolution, “The District shall determine the application of available moneys as between the various Improvements set forth above so as to accomplish, as nearly as may be, all of the Improvements described or provided for in this section.”
Also, according to the resolution, should the district struggle to meet the improvements outlined, the Centralia School Board may hold a public hearing, then apply the funds to other areas.
“If the Board shall determine that it has become impractical to accomplish any of such Improvements or portions thereof by reason of state or local circumstances, including changed conditions, incompatible development or costs substantially in excess of those estimated, the District shall not be required to accomplish such Improvements and may apply the Bond proceeds or any portion thereof to other portions of the Improvements, to other capital improvements, or to payment of principal of or an interest on the Bonds, as the Board may determine after holding a public hearing theron pursuant to RCW 28A.530.020.”
The Centralia School Board met for a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to review the performance of a school district employee. Buzzard said early Wednesday afternoon that the Centralia School Board did not take action after its executive session and that she would send a press release regarding the executive session later that day.
“I have a press release (and) that is our response,” said Buzzard at the time. “We take these allegations seriously and want to move forward as a district and a board. … As far as being a caveat that we could change, that is a moot point because we built two schools for K-6.”
Buzzard declined at the time to comment further.
In the press release, Buzzard disputed other claims Johnson made in the CEA’s own press release — namely that Davalos “arbitrarily and irrationally” froze spending, that teachers were “forbidden” from making copies of classroom materials and that the district threatened to lay off teachers.
“Finally, the CEA release presents an 11th hour challenge to the district’s pending change to K-6 elementary schools,” Buzzard wrote. “Their language unfairly places the weight of the decision’s consequences on Mr. Davalos and claims teachers haven’t been involved in these discussions. In fact, the transition to K-6 schools was a decision made by the Board of Directors on the recommendation made by our Facilities Master Planning Committee in 2016. That committee included teachers, as has our K-6 boundary change committee. The district has been in talks with the CEA since 2016 regarding how staffing changes would be made, and teachers were recently polled for a second time on their preferences for placement after the change.”
Johnson said elementary school teachers still have not received information regarding their placement in the district for next school year.
“We are strongly urging our school’s board to listen to the 95 percent vote of the teacher population in Centralia,” Johnson said. “They are going to alienate a huge, if not all, the teachers in Centralia if they maintain a status quo with Mark Davalos as their leader.”
Davalos told The Chronicle in June 2018 that teachers would know their assignments by the end of January, or early February of this year. As of this week, Johnson said teachers are still in the dark, and she doesn’t have a meeting on her calendar for the rest of January.
“Not one teacher knows where they are teaching next year,” said Johnson of the Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers. “It’s going to cost a tremendous amount of money and it’s going to neglect our teachers in the best interest of their needs. … Why would you want to displace teachers who are in a very functional environment?”
Should the Centralia School Board move forward with the K-6 transition, the district must present the CEA with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) — an agreement that would outline the specifics of how teachers would transition during the K-6 reconfiguration and how they would be compensated for their time in moving, Johnson said.
“If that MOU is not agreed upon by our members, then we go back to the drawing board and there is no transition,” Johnson said. “Whenever our work conditions change, it has to be bargained.”
Buzzard said she does not believe that the transition to the K-6 model will affect Centralia teacher contracts, although she said it is possible the CEA will reject the MOU.
“I’m not sure that would change anything,” Buzzard said. “It’s the decision that we’re making. We are looking for support and we have overwhelming support from the community and staff.”