While school district officials eyed cuts in school programs after losing a $5.6 million levy, another problem showed up on their doorstep Wednesday.
About 50 protesting teachers, parents and students parked themselves on the sidewalk outside the district’s central office.
They didn’t come to holler about cutbacks, but to chide administrators for trying to demote Sandpoint High School Principal A.C. Woolnough.
The group also gathered signatures aimed at recalling all the school board members. “Nobody here feels good about coming out and having to do this,” said parent Jerry Owens. “I hope the district comes to its senses and reinstates A.C. to end this turmoil.”
Last month, the school board voted to remove Woolnough as principal and offer him a teaching post instead. The board cited philosophical differences with the principal.
Woolnough, who drove by the protesters Wednesday, has fought the demotion. He recently won a court order allowing him to keep his job. A judge said the district didn’t follow proper procedures and Woolnough was entitled to a hearing before the school board. The district is appealing the ruling.
“They (district officials) were clubbed over the head with a court ruling, and they are still not getting the message,” said Ray Miller. He was protesting as a parent, but he is also a high school teacher and Sandpoint city councilman. “I hope this will get the message to an obstinate school board,” Miller said.
The group held “Support A.C.” signs and put up a banner reading “Education Not Litigation.”
Superintendent Max Harrell was out of town Wednesday, and no district officials addressed the protesters.
District Business Manager Steve Battenschlag said a hearing is being arranged for Woolnough and the district is working toward a resolution.
Trustee Willard Osmunson heard about the protest but not about the recall drive.
“I guess I’m wondering if they don’t like the board why there was no one lining up to run,” he said. “Where are all the candidates for office?”
The filing deadline was a few weeks ago, and only one candidate sought an open seat.
Meanwhile, the district is saddled with a larger problem because voters rejected the proposed levy Tuesday. The money would have helped build an elementary school and make districtwide improvements.
Trustees want to avoid laying off teachers and plan to slash district programs to produce a balanced budget.
That won’t be easy. The district spends $1 million more on staff salaries than it receives from the state. That could mean raises for teachers are in jeopardy. The district has also discussed cutting back kindergarten classes, consolidating bus routes, delaying school repairs and having athletes pay to play sports.
“If it’s not in the state-funding formula then it’s up for a cut,” Battenschlag said.
He is already preparing the budget which must be completed by mid-May. It will be reviewed by a committee of employees, parents and administrators.
“We will go through it line by line. If they can come up with ways to salvage a program and still have a balanced budget, I will be all ears,” Battenschlag said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The numbers The two-part, $5.6 million school district levy failed in nearly every one of the 18 precincts. The unofficial results: Districtwide needs: No 2,837, Yes 2,033. Kootenai Elementary School: No 2,628, Yes 2,149.
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