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Reid reflects on her first year as SKSD head

By nature, South Kitsap School District’s Michelle Reid is a forward-thinker.

In her first year as superintendent she has unveiled plans to expand all-day kindergarten, increase Advance Placement course offerings, develop a Spanish Immersion program at Burley-Glenwood Elementary School and introduce International Baccalaureate within the district.

But Reid also inherited some challenges, including a contentious negotiation with the South Kitsap Education Association that put the start of the 2013-14 school year in jeopardy and a dwindling reserve fund. The former was resolved when 96 percent of SKEA members voted in favor of a three-year contract just before school started in September. Reid complemented all of the stakeholders after the agreement for their “dedication and commitment.”

“I think what I learned is the strength of this district is the people,” she said. “There are incredible people here.”

Another significant issue for Reid, who was started on July 1, 2013, after working various roles since 1985 in the Port Angeles School District, was SKSD’s fund balance, which dwindled to about $4.9 million in 2012-13. That led Reid to consult with Debra Aungst, a former Puyallup School District administrator, to perform a review of SKSD’s finances last August.

Aungst’s report stated that the district’s “current financial condition clearly calls for immediate attention.” She was referring to a specific category state education officials  use to measure each district’s                       financial health. Using the state’s matrix, SKSD was three steps away from a financial warning. Among the state’s 295 school districts, 270 were in better financial shape than SKSD.

“Everyone in the district was affected by the budget in some way,” Reid said. “We asked people to do more with less — and they did.”

She also instituted some changes in the budget development process. Reid said she placed directors in charge of their budgets. For example, transportation director Jay Rosapepe was placed in charge of expenditures for his department. Reid said that enabled those officials to decide how to spend some of the funds they receive, which she believes resulted in savings and enabled them to prioritize issues.

“One of the things I’ve really worked hard to do is maintain a real disciplined approach with both the budget and shoring up our processes, systems and areas where that’s been a challenge,” said Reid, who is hopeful the district’s reserve fund will increase to $8 million when school begins.

Another challenge Reid hopes is resolved in time is stability. In April 2012, deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner succumbed to cancer. A little more than two months later, superintendent Dave LaRose left to take a similar position within the Culver City Unified School District in California. The turnover has continued within SKSD’s administrative building, where two assistant superintendents — Misty Dieffenbach (human resources) and Tracy Patterson (business services) — recently were hired.

“A challenge has been all of the people that have been new,” said Reid, who believes SKSD’s turnover rate will begin to stabilize. “We’ve had a lot of staff turnover in the last three years, particularly in the district level. Having that institutional memory and also providing some stability is so important. I think people underestimate the importance of stability in an organization, but it’s critical.”

Reid said she saw the importance of that with the school board, which has not mirrored the administrative office in terms of turnover. Both Keith Garton and Patty Henderson have served for more than a decade, while Christopher Lemke is near that milestone.

That is stability Reid would like to see within SKSD buildings. She noted that reduction-in-force [RIF] notices in recent years necessitated some staff members to take other positions that they sometimes either preferred less or where their background was not as strong. SKSD did not have a RIF during the spring.

“We’ve tried to be really thoughtful about what positions were open and where people should be placed,” Reid said.

While Reid stress the importance of continuing to evolve as a district, there are programs and ideologies she wants to maintain. That includes the “Whole Child concept that LaRose said aimed to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged, pushed when he became superintendent in 2008.

“Our focus on the Whole Child is something that is special,” Reid said. “A lot of other districts have lost that and I think it’s important that we stayed focused on that.”

 

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