Michele Bettinger resigned Tuesday, June 21, from the Kent School Board saying, “I no longer feel professionally or personally safe asking questions, trying to get items on the agenda for discussion or while attending executive session.”
Voters elected Bettinger to a four-year term in November 2019. Her term expires in November 2023. The resignation of Bettinger comes the day before the June 22 school board meeting.
“Sitting on the Kent School Board has rarely felt like a healthy or safe place to work towards constructive change for students and taxpayers; but seems alarmingly worse over the past six months,” Bettinger said in a Facebook post to announce her resignation. “It’s finally reached a point where I believe the behavior of certain individuals on the six-person board superintendent governance team has rendered it nearly impossible for me to fulfill my sworn duties.”
Bettinger was one of five board members. The others are Board President Leslie Hamada and directors Tim Clark, Awale Farah and Joe Bento. Kent School District Superintendent Israel Vela also is on the board superintendent governance team.
The board voted 3-2 to hire Vela as superintendent in April. Bettinger and Bento voted against hiring Vela, the interim superintendent, and instead wanted to expand the search. Vela became the interim superintendent after Calvin Watts resigned last summer to take a superintendent job in Georgia.
“It’s reached a point where I’m no longer willing to have my reputation and efforts aligned with what I now see happening,” Bettinger said. “I’m not willing to be responsible for the outcomes of decisions made.”
Hamada said in a June 21 email that Bettinger’s resignation came as a surprise.
“It is her personal statement from her perspective, ‘personally,’ it would not be appropriate for me to speak to that,” Hamada said when asked to respond to Bettinger’s comments in the resignation letter.
Bettinger often questioned district staff about numerous topics, including the budget and student enrollment drops.
In addition to the Vela hiring, Bettinger several times has been on the short end of 3-2 votes, as has Bento. She and Bento voted in August 2021 against renewing a contract to hire two Kent Police officers to work at schools because they wanted more community input prior to the vote.
Bettinger and Bento also voted against approval of a resolution in January to lease space for free to the Bezos Academy to run a free, nonprofit preschool for children of low-income families. Bettinger said she voted against the lease in part because she wanted more time to ponder it. She said to vote on the measure the same night right after hearing about it during a board workshop session isn’t the way things should be done. She said the public had no chance to hear about it.
Bettinger and Leslie Hamada in June 2021 voted against extending the contract of Watts.
Bettinger and her husband have lived in the Northwood Middle/Ridgewood Elementary school neighborhood for over 18 years. They have two children who attended and graduated from Kent schools, one who just graduated this month.
“I’m still committed to the work,” Bettinger said. “I’ll take time to refocus, reflect and consult with others in preparation for channeling my energies on educational advocacy elsewhere; likely at the state level because I see failures in many of the state’s systems, checks and balances that should’ve prevented what I believe is happening in Kent.
“Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank those students, families, community and staff members district-wide who’ve been so supportive to me and who I see giving their all in working for the best outcomes.”
The board will ask for applications and then appoint a candidate to fill Bettinger’s seat. Leah Bowen resigned in 2020 from the board. The board opened up her district seat to applicants who lived in the district and eventually appointed Bento to the seat. Bettinger represented District 2. Besides Bettinger, voters also elected Hamada and Bowen in November 2019.
Hamada said she’s confident about the direction the district is going.
“In a very difficult year of our previous superintendent (Watts) leaving abruptly and a pandemic, the district has been able to continue to keep the busses running, meals served, provide social emotional support, keep our staff and students safe and well (for the most part) while working toward academic recovery,” Hamada said.
“We have implemented the beginning of a Kent Virtual Academy alternative that will open in the fall of 2022 to give our students another pathway to learn. We have revisited a boundary organizational piece which our community has been included in the decision making and a better product will come of it that will be more inclusive.”