Group plans petition drive to recall Kent School Board members

Claims board has not ‘performed their duties in accordance with the laws of the state’

A group of residents plans to start a petition drive to recall Kent School Board members for reportedly failing to perform their duties in accordance with state laws or comply with Kent School District policies.

The Convening Group for Board Recall had its first Zoom meeting on Aug. 6, just one day after the board voted 3-2 to extend the contract of Superintendent Calvin Watts through June 2022.

“We are primarily concerned about protecting kids,” according to the group’s statement. “For many years, the Kent School Board has struggled to function as a collaborative unit. Simply put, the board has neither performed their duties in accordance with the laws of the state of Washington, nor complied with the written policies of the Kent School District.

“It is their job to monitor the district to protect students. While we see they believe they are doing so, they fail to address the numerous questions and observations brought to their attention by families, staff, the teacher’s union, paraeducators and principals. It seems personal reactions to public comments interfere with the ability to maintain objectivity. This ultimately inhibits the process designed to maintain accountability.”

The recall group will meet again Aug. 13 to discuss which board members to recall and specific details about the claims and supporting evidence as it works toward a final decision.

Board Vice President Denise Daniels and directors Maya Vengadasalam and Leah Bowen voted to extend the contract of Watts, who became superintendent in 2015. Board President Leslie Hamada and director Michele Bettinger were against the extension. The recall group opposed the extension.

“Our exploratory group is finalizing a list of the specific reasons to conform with the requirements of the law as found in RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 29A.56.110,” according to the group’s statement. “We have repeatedly witnessed inequitable practices and decisions and we hope this recall effort will move the school board to prioritize student safety and staff morale. As more and more KSD employees leave the district due to low job satisfaction, we continue to lose the best teachers for our children.”

Hamada declined to directly address the recall effort.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on efforts to recall me or my colleagues on the Kent School Board,” Hamada said in a Aug. 10 email to the Kent Reporter. “That being said, my mission or agenda since taking on this board director position has been laser focused on: ‘What is Best For Kids!’ This community knows me well and what I have stood for during years of work.”

Hamada said that she has followed through on her campaign platform to provide strong financial oversight, transparent and open communication, and equity and excellence on all levels.

Voters elected Hamada, Bettinger and Bowen in November. Each are new to the board and in their first year of a four-year term. Hamada and Bowen ran unopposed. Daniels was elected in 2017, and Vengadasalam was re-elected in 2017 to a second four-year term. The terms for Daniels and Vengadasalam expire at the end of 2021.

The recall group hopes to start a petition drive by the end of August.

“We want to move deliberately and carefully,” according to the group’s statement. “We want to make sure all voices in the district have a chance to give input. We also believe the failures of the board have gone unchecked for far too long. As to a time frame, we expect to submit to the court a ‘typewritten charge’ that initiates recall by the end of the month.”

Per RCW 29A.56.180, the number of signatures required to get a recall on the ballot is 25% of the votes that were cast in the prior election for that specific position. The number of signatures needed could range between 4,825 and 6,356, according to the group, depending on which board members it attempts to recall.

Shannon Jephson-Hernandez, a science teacher at Mill Creek Middle School for nine years and the mother of two Kent-Meridian High graduates and one current high school student, is a member of the group initiating the recall.

“I am deeply proud of the diversity at Mill Creek Middle School where I work,” she said. “Sadly, I witness inequity daily where the school board should take notice and prioritize the needs of all Mill Creek students and families. I personally have spoken at numerous board meetings for the last three years, begging them to listen and get involved. Like many others, my concerns go unaddressed and my questions go unanswered. If a diligent staff member can’t invoke concern from the school board, how can families?”

The eight people leading the recall drive connected with each other via the KSD Discussion Group on Facebook. That Facebook page has more than 4,500 members and was formed in 2017 to discuss happenings in the Kent School District, education in Washington state and the world at large. The recall group recently started a Facebook page called All 4 KSD and plans to start a website as well.

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