Tonasket admin lauded for WSLA presentation

State delays payment again

TONASKET – The Tonasket School District’s efforts to understand and develop strategies to improve the education of children coming from impoverished backgrounds received high praise after its administrators’ presentation at last week’s Washington State Leadership Academy in Spokane.

The administrators had run through their presentation at the Monday, June 17, school board meeting and reported on the results of the conference on Monday, June 24.

The district last year received a two-year regional improvement grant through the ESD.

“We wrote the grant to say, ‘these are the things we are doing,” said special education director Liz Stucker, who coordinated the team’s efforts. “You had to be far enough down the road that their help would boost your progress. If you were on ground zero and had nothing in place, then they wouldn’t accept you. If you just had a few gaps, then you were approved and they could help you pull all the pieces together. We did so well because we had so many pieces in place.”

Still, she said during the meeting, the accolades that came Tonasket’s way were somewhat of a surprise.

“I was thinking it was our first year,” she said. “We’d struggled with some things and done some good things. I just figured in Year 1 we’d be bottom of the ladder. But districts two years into the process were in awe of what we’ve done. It really speaks well of our leadership team and the work they’ve done.”

The presentation, featuring pieces delivered by Stucker, high school principal Jeff Hardesty, middle school principal Jay Tyus, elementary school prinicipal Jeremy Clark and high school assistant principal/athletic director Kevin Terris, focused on the effects of poverty on students’ ability to learn, the meaning of data gleaned from comparing students’ learning ability to their economic status, and strategies they were developing to narrow the achievement gap between students of different economic backgrounds.

Jeanine Butler, WSLA Leadership Academy coach who mentored the Tonasket group as well as a number of other districts, sent a letter to the Tonasket School Board within days of the June 20 presentation.

“I need to let you know what an amazing job they did at (the) statewide end of year presentation in Spokane,” she wrote. “As a first year WSLA team they had outstanding presentations that impressed all the other districts they met with, including the second-year districts.”

She commended superintendent Paul Turner for his initiative in getting his administrators plugged into the WSKA opportunity, as well as Stucker (who led the admin team) as a “tireless worker … pushing us to remember that there are not three individual schools but one system. Her commitment to each and every student learning regardless of background or scenario is tenacious and helps us all.”

She also lauded, with individual highlights, the work of Hardesty, Tyus, Clark and Terris.

“The Tonasket WSLA team was superlative,” Butler wrote. “Many other superintendents and principals learned from them how to be better administrators. And this is all because they have been so incredibly committed to improving student achievement this past year and have thought deeply and worked diligently.”

Needless to say, school board members were pleased with the feedback.

“Three or four years ago Paul (Turner) got the book that we went through as a board, and that’s where we adopted this sort of thinking (of being one system, not a just a group of schools),” said board member Lloyd Caton. “I commend Liz for reminding them that we’re a school system and not a system of schools, and that’s a huge difference… I’m really happy and glad to see the way you represented the district that they could see how we think that way. It was a revelation to me (at the time).”

“It is amazing to watch the team work,” said board chair Jerry Asmussen, who added he’d seen the administrators work with Butler before. “Jeanine is a very dynamic leader.”

“This is awesome,” said board member Ty Olson. “It’s very, very, very nice to see this kind of recognition.”

“We look forward to seeing amazing things from your team,” said board member Catherine Stangland.


State to delay payment again

As it did last year, the state has apparently decided to withhold part of its apportionment payments to school districts by one day to satisfy budgetary requirements.

While that delay may not sound like much, it can create chaos at the district level, particularly those districts without much margin for error.

“They say (they are withholding) only 30 percent but I’m planning on 40,” said business manager Deb Kitterman. “We have enough in our ending balance to cover payroll and if we do get the (70 percent), we can pay our accounts payable as well.”

Kitterman said that if the district were going to fall short, asking Okanogan County for interest-bearing warrants to cover the expenses for a few days was no longer an option.

“It’s not yet their policy, but I was told there were too many entities (in warrants),” Kitterman said, noting that even if it were an option the rest of the state payment would likely arrive before money from warrants would have been available.

Responding to question from board Stangland, Kitterman said the district would “be on its own” if it didn’t have enough fund balance to meet its obligations.

Stangland said it was a reminder how critical it was to revisit the discussion on what level of fund balance was necessary as a hedge against insolvency.

“This is the second year in a row they’ve done this,” Kitterman said. “The first email (issued by the state) was incorrect, and not everyone received it (including Tonasket). So I just got it this morning. Here we are five days away and that’s all the warning we (and many other districts) got.”

“Last year we had enough in reserve and we had no worries,” Caton said. “This year it’s going to be tighter… Last year some districts had to hold their teachers’ pay (until after the first of the month).”

Asmussen pointed out that state superintendent Randy Dorn recently released a list of 115 school districts that could be “tipped over” if the state didn’t pay its apportionments. Tonasket was one of six Okanogan County districts on the list (the others being Oroville, Pateros, Okanogan, Methow Valley and Grand Coulee Dam).

“That would be if they didn’t pay any apportionment,” Kitterman said, reiterating that her information was for a 30 percent hold-back.

She added that, while there was not time in this instance to take out a short-term loan, she was going to contact local banks to see what would be required to cover similar situations in the future.

“I do not see a problem (this year) unless at the last minute they (hold back) 50 percent,” Kitterman said. “The first recourse would be to hold the Accounts Payable checks ’til the last day of the month and then mail them.”

“It’s not a fun place to be,” Asmussen said.

The school board next meets Monday, July 29, at 7:00 p.m. for its a budget hearing, followed by its regular one-monthly meeting as per its summer schedule.