And today I share another constituent question from Facebook. This time, Mr. Matt Wolohan, who filed as a Democrat Precinct Committee Officer back in May, 2018 and who ran and lost as a Democrat for County Commissioner in 2016 had the following question for me:
Part of the job of representing your constituents is answering the hard questions. In that vein, here’s one I would ask: as cofounder of Valley Virtual Academy, established to tap into public education funds, the Valley superintendent was fired over misuse of public funds…. you were in charge of the administration at that time. What was your part?
Here is my response:
Thanks for your question. I enjoy questions—even hard ones with lots of detail involved. This personality characteristic is just one of the many reasons I will be an excellent Auditor for Stevens County. I must, however, clarify a few inaccuracies in your post before I can describe my various roles in the Valley School District.
1) The name of the program was initially the “Valley HOME Program,” and when we added an online learning component, the program was renamed “Columbia Virtual Academy,” or CVA.
2) The program was not—as you say–established to “tap into public education funds.” Its purpose was and still is to fulfill the well-known “paramount duty clause” of the Washington State Constitution (Article IX, Section 1) which affirms that “all children residing within [the State’s] borders” will be provided with a basic, uniform education. The program was designed to reach out to and serve students previously disenfranchised, and make that “ample provision” for their learning without discrimination against those students whose parents desired an above-average involvement in their children’s education. Governed by WAC 392-121-182, CVA continues to operate as an Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) program, an innovation of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office dating back to the late 1980s. At the founding of the program in 2003, I believe the WAC governing the program had been in place and unchanged since the 1995-1996 school year. Many regional districts were offering ALE programs at that time, but Valley School District never had. It was time for Valley to catch up and adequately serve ALL of its students. I was happy to be an integral part of that important effort. Here are a couple of links that might be helpful (I can provide additional information if you’d like):
3) The superintendent I believe you are referring to is Dr. Mark Selle. He was not fired, he resigned in 2013, one year _after_ I had left the district and was no longer employed there. It is noteworthy that the average tenure of any superintendent in a Washington State Public School District tenure is about four years—Selle had served the Valley School District for 14 years, so it is not surprising that he felt it was time to move on. Upon his resignation, the Valley School Board of Directors did the opposite of “firing” him—they lauded him in a public statement/press release, stating “As Dr. Selle has decided to pursue his passion for education in different arenas, it was with heavy heart the Board accepted his letter of resignation. During the 14 years he has served as Superintendent of the Valley School District we have experienced a tremendous amount of growth and innovation. We will deeply miss his leadership and vision as superintendent, and all board members wish him the best in his new endeavors.” (source: http://chewelahindependent.com/mark-selle-resigns-as…/ ).
4) As CVA Director and later Advocacy Director, I was not “in charge of the administration.” I was a member of administration, though I did supervise certified principals (commonly referred to as administrators in the school setting). I reported to the superintendent, and through the superintendent, to the Valley School District Board of Directors.
Now to your question, “what was your part?” I am unsure, but I think you may be asking one of two things. You might be asking about my various roles in the district over my tenure; alternately, you might be asking my what my role in alleged “misuse of public funds.” I’ll answer the second question first, and follow with the first.
I had no part in any misuse of public funds. The Valley School District had one audit that resulted in financial findings (which the district contested), covering the fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Fiscal years run Sept 1 through August 31, if memory serves. My direct supervision of principals, teachers and staff in CVA ended in January 2010, though cooperation on policy issues continued.
In January 2010, I was promoted into a newly established Advocacy Director position, which was essentially a department of one, focusing on research and legislative/policy advocacy for all the district’s programs (including its newly formed early learning program, the ALE program, the innovative high school program, and its transportation cooperative), in cooperation with other department heads. Furthermore, my employment in the district ended in June 2012, when the district had a massive downsizing of teachers and staff, the result of legislative cuts in funding and policy changes for ALE programs such as CVA. Washington lagged behind in its post-recession recovery, and my position—along with 34 others—was eliminated that year through Reduction in Force (RIF) procedures because of those funding changes.
To your (assumed) question about my various roles in the district, I share the following: When the ALE program later known as CVA was first established in 2003, I fulfilled multiple roles. You could say I did it all! At that time, we had under 100 students, and so I was enrollment coordinator, department budget-keeper, compliance manager—I even held an emergency temporary teaching certificate for a short period of time, and worked alongside other qualified VSD staff to provide for the instructional needs of students. As our program grew, we hired additional staff members, and I slowly shed the “jack-off-all-trades” list of responsibilities, moving into management of our diverse teams of employees. Increasingly, I was called upon to liaise with other school districts interested in providing the CVA mode to their students. This included travel to give presentations to multiple school boards across the state, resulting in partnerships with 14 school districts. As a key point of contact with other districts, I helped ensure the integrity and consistency of the CVA program for nearly 3500 students, many of whom accessed the program through their resident school district. As mentioned above, in January 2010 I was promoted into a position focusing on policy advocacy for all of the district’s program offerings. In this role, I presented to the legislature, worked with the Rural Education Center, and was the district liaison to the Washington Association of School Administrators, among other organizations.
Thanks again for your question, and the opportunity to highlight how much my history of innovation, service and management of others in the public sector has me well-qualified to bring the Stevens County Auditor’s office into a new era of excellence and accountability.