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Petition filed for recall of San Juan Island School Board
The stakes have been raised in the tug-of-war over the resignation of Friday Harbor's elementary school principal.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, attorney Nick Power of San Juan Island filed a petition with the San Juan County Auditor's office seeking the recall of all five members of the San Juan Island School District Board of Directors. Power's daughter attends Friday Harbor Elementary School
In Washington state, any elected official, including a school board member, is subject to a recall if a judge determines there is "sufficient" grounds for such an election. In general, that means a judge finds an allegation of malfeasance, misfeasance or a violation of an oath of office, has some merit.
Among other charges, Power claims the board violated the state's Opens Public Meetings Act by holding a non-sanctioned executive session during a public skirmish over the resignation on Jan. 18.
"Petitioner’s position is that the executive session held during the January 18 meeting failed to fall within the narrow allowance for executive sessions which allows board members to evaluate the qualifications of an employee in private..." Power notes in the petition. "Rather, it is Petitioner’s position, that after two and a half hours of heated and emotional public testimony, the Board retired to engineer a way to sell their acceptance of the resignation, not to discuss the specific job-related performance of Principal Pflueger."
Auditor Milene Henley said the burden of bringing a recall before the voters is, in some ways, bigger than with other citizen-led initiatives.
"There's a pretty high bar for qualifying for a recall," Henley said, adding in this particular case that timing and the number of signatures needed could be a hurdle for supporters of the recall.
Should it pass legal muster, Henely said supporters would then have until early May to gather signatures equaling 35 percent of votes cast in the election in which each individual board member was last on a ballot. Under state law, Henley said signatures cannot be gathered for a recall within 60 days of the date in which candidates file for public office.
In contrast, a ballot initiative needs only signatures equivalent to 15 percent of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord will have 15 days to produce a summary of the 14-page petition and the allegations it contains, and then forward it on to Superior Court. After that, Judge Don Eaton will have 15 days to schedule a hearing and issue a ruling whether there are sufficient grounds for a recall vote.
The School Board, a five-person panel of elected volunteers, voted without dissent Jan. 11 to accept principal Gary Pflueger's letter of resignation. It has been under fire for that decision ever since.
The board has remained unified, however, in backing its decision despite an outpouring of community support for the embattled principal and repeated protests and calls for reconsideration from parents, teachers and rising tide of disgruntled islanders.
In addition to a potential recall, the petition asks that the court order the board to reconsider its decision, following a 30-day waiting period, and that the elementary school PTA receive any compensation awarded as part of the case.