Marysville schools chief out

MARYSVILLE — The tenure of embattled Marysville School District Superintendent Linda Whitehead is over.

The Marysville School Board voted 3-1 Wednesday night to accept an undisclosed settlement with Whitehead after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The board would only say that it accepted Whitehead’s last proposal, which spelled out what it would take for her to resign.

Board members would not reveal how much money the district will spend until Whitehead has signed the final paperwork formally ending her employment with the district.

"Our lawyers advised us that nothing is public until she signs her name," board member Michael Kundu said.

Details of the settlement will be made available to those who request the information in writing, the board said. Under state law, public agencies have five business days to respond to a written public information request. State law also requires public agencies to take all measures to ensure that public information is handed out liberally, without unnecessary hurdles.

The Herald made a public information request for the settlement terms to the district Wednesday night.

Board members also didn’t say when Whitehead’s employment would officially end.

Kundu said it will be "very soon" and hinges on when the final paperwork is signed.

"The substance has been accomplished," he said. "Now the protocol must follow."

Whitehead’s contract included a salary of $130,876 a year. Benefits included $400 a month to be invested in a tax-sheltered annuity under a deferred compensation plan, and a car allowance.

Whitehead has 2 1/2 years remaining on her contract.

Whitehead, her administrators and the former school board came under fire during the state record 49-day Marysville teachers strike last fall.

Voting for the buyout Wednesday night were Kundu, Carol Jason and board president Vicki Gates.

All three were elected Nov. 4 and had questioned Whitehead’s leadership during the strike while they were running for office. Getting rid of Whitehead was a primary goal of Kundu’s campaign, while the others said it was something they would seriously consider.

The lone vote against the buyout came from Ron Young, who characterized the decision as "a waste of taxpayers’ money." He was given two minutes to speak during the meeting.

"The question is, are we willing to spend a single dollar on someone who has nothing to do with educating our students?" Young said. "Is that something this school district wants to do?"

Helen Mount, the fifth board member, who supported Whitehead, was out of town and did not attend the meeting.

Whitehead was not at the meeting and issued a statement afterward in which she listed some accomplishments and initiatives that took place while she was superintendent. Those included focusing on student achievement and improving the financial situation of the 11,000-student district.

Gates said afterward no decision has been made on who will replace Whitehead until a permanent superintendent can be chosen.

Sue Staar, a teacher at Heritage School on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, said the weeks of uncertainty about the district’s leadership were difficult on everyone, regardless of allegiances.

"Hopefully, now Marysville can start moving forward," she said.

The decision came after more than an hour of executive session, the fifth time in recent weeks the school board had met behind closed doors to discuss Whitehead’s contract.

Many teachers clapped after the board took its vote, but said they didn’t want to comment.

"I think teachers want to be sensitive to her dignity," said Elaine Hanson, president of the Marysville Education Association.

Hanson welcomed the change in leadership.

"We look forward to a superintendent who wants to work with the teachers and employees of the school district and will listen to the community," she said.

"It’s just unfortunate for everyone involved, especially the students," said Robert Zigler, a Marysville resident who has run for a school board position and followed its actions for many years. "I think she made a lot of good moves downtown to make things run better.

"It does not bode well for the next superintendent," Zigler said. "The next superintendent will not be able to make decisions without having approval of the union."

Paying superintendents for quick exits for philosophical or performance issues is unusual but by no means unprecedented. In recent years, taxpayers in Mukilteo paid $320,000, Mercer Island paid $194,000, Issaquah $143,000 and Shoreline $116,000 and $43,000 — on two separate occasions — to get rid of superintendents.

The school board — which then did not include Gates, Kundu and Jason — unanimously extended Whitehead’s contract in November.

It was one of the last decisions that board made between the time of the election when they were voted out of office and when the new board members took their oaths.

During the strike, Whitehead and the former school board argued that money was a problem, and that the district was trying to balance teacher salaries with costly issues such as the need for new elementary school reading materials, increasing power costs and building repairs.

Teachers returned to class on Oct 22They are still without a contract, though talks recently resumed.

Whitehead, who lives in Issaquah, was appointed Marysville superintendent in June 2001. She previously was the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources.

In its last formal evaluation in spring 2003, the former board gave Whitehead high marks — 166 out of 175 possible points. The members each praised her for focusing on student achievement, getting the district’s finances on track and hiring a solid administrative staff.

The Marysville Education Association, which represents about 650 teachers, didn’t share those opinions.

In spring 2002, the union took a vote of no confidence in Whitehead and the school board. Teachers argued that they should have been consulted about budget cuts the district made earlier that year.

Before the Wednesday vote, Paul Sjunnesen, a retired superintendent hired as a special assistant to the school board, was asked to share his impressions of Whitehead’s leadership.

Sjunnesen pointed to district finances, more focus on student achievement and the opening of the new Marysville Arts and Technology High School as solid improvements.

"Regardless of what you believe and how you carry out a plan for improvement, it still has to be sold to the membership," Sjunnesen said. "In other words, a leader without followers is not effective. So that is the issue you have to make a decision" on.

Moments later, the school board cast its votes.

Reporter Victor Balta contributed to this story. Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or

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