Aberdeen School Board backs superintendent

By Doug Barker

Grays Harbor News Group

The day after the Aberdeen teachers union voted “no confidence” in school Superintendent Alicia Henderson, the district school board issued a joint statement supporting her.

At Tuesday night’s online School Board meeting, all five directors read portions of a joint statement in support of Henderson.

“The Aberdeen School District Board of Directors would like to acknowledge the frustration of the community during these uncertain times. We thank you for sharing your concerns and assure you they are all heard and considered as we navigate this unfamiliar territory. As we work closely with Superintendent Henderson, we have witnessed her dedication to our district and believe she is acting proficiently and in good faith. For this, we would like to reaffirm our confidence in her this evening.” the statement began.

The Aberdeen Education Association voted overwhelmingly Monday to call for Henderson’s immediate resignation or termination. That story was reported in Tuesday’s Daily World with updates online.

“We can no longer stand by while this superintendent drives our students, our schools and our morale into the ground,” said union President Cathleen Wilder. “We have lost faith and simply don’t have the time nor the wherewithal to continue trying to work with someone who has a complete lack of regard for students, staff, our schools and our community.”

The layoff of more than 40 teachers seems to be the issue that prompted the vote of no confidence. Without substantial layoffs, Henderson foresees the potential for a COVID-19 driven revenue shortfall to leave the district committed to paying more teachers than it would be compensated for by the state. The teacher layoff decisions had to be made by May 15, although revenue projections are much hazier than usual this year.

The School Board has adopted the conservative revenue projections and has said if there is more revenue than is projected, as many teachers as possible will be called back.

School Board President Sandra Bielski said Henderson isn’t making such large decisions on her own and receives guidance from the board.

“Every superintendent I’ve ever worked with has always sought guidance from the school board, but develops their plans with the help of their leadership. Alicia has never acted all on her own, especially in these big decisions lately,” Bielski told The Daily World. “She’s sought guidance from our finance director who came from the (state) Educational Service District and is is continually sought after by other districts and from the HR manager. She has never acted alone.”

Contract expires in June 2022

The statement from the full board included the news that Henderson doesn’t plan to stay past the end of her current contract, which expires in June of 2022.

“Later tonight, we will uphold our obligation to review the goals that were set for the year, and conduct the annual evaluation of the superintendent,” the statement said. “Dr. Henderson shared with us last year that she will not be asking for an extension, but is willing to honor the remaining two years of her contract.

Wilder and the teachers union says the information they have gathered from state sources and lawmakers tells them the revenue picture won’t be as bleak and there was no reason to lay off so many teachers.

Wilder said other districts don’t seem to be reacting the way Aberdeen is in terms of deep cuts.

“We understand that in the financial situation, with a global pandemic, there is going to be a need for cuts,” she said. “It’s the volume of the cuts — and then, once you take that into consideration, how it was initiated, how people got the message in a very uncaring way.”

Henderson said at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting that the revenue picture at this point looks better than it did when the layoff notices had to be made and that there has been some gain in enrollment projection, which drives how much the state contributes, but that things are still very uncertain and that enrollment was falling even before the pandemic. “I understand there is a lot of pain with the reductions in our district,” Henderson told The Daily World. “I don’t think there is any superintendent who would risk this wrath without the belief that it’s necessary because of their fiduciary responsibility to keep the district solvent.”