Formal principal's hearing comes to a close

MABTON - At long last, former Artz-Fox Principal Fabian Castilleja took the stand last Friday in a hearing regarding a 2005 Mabton School District decision to not renew his contract.

Castilleja testified that when he first took the position in the school, he met with several parents and community members who expressed discipline concerns, stating that it was an overriding issue at the time.

During opening arguments on the first day of the hearing last Tuesday, school district attorney Jeanie Tolcacher said that there was a problem with consistency in discipline.

Castilleja also testified that there was a discipline policy in place, as well as a discipline matrix, when he joined the school.

There was also previous testimony in the week that indicated speculation over whether or not Castilleja had difficulty working for a female supervisor. His attorney, Kerri Wheeler Feeney, asked if he'd ever worked for a woman before and he testified that he had and had never had a problem with it.

Castilleja testified that the first time he received his job description was in February 2005. Feeney asked if he'd received any orientation, new employee training, training regarding the school district's evaluation policy and district policies, all of which he testified that he had not.

On Wednesday, Linda Rosen, who works in human resources in the school district, testified that she provided Castilleja with a new employee handbook and a job description in a packet early in 2004. This packet also included a check-list that Castilleja was to mark off, indicating he understood the materials. She testified that she did not receive the check list back until March 2005.

Castilleja said that early on in his tenure, he became aware of a process that concerned him. Students in kindergarten were held back, but claimed as first graders. This provides the school with more money, he said. He testified that he and Superintendent Sandra Pasiero-Davis agreed that this practice should not continue.

In previous testimony from Pasiero-Davis, Castilleja was accused of failure to create a culture of collaboration and trust. He said that very early on, he felt targeted. "I felt like my administrative authority had been undermined. It was clear to me, at this time, early in the year, that people were trying to undermine me."

Previous testimony also criticized Castilleja for lack of 24-hour notice for staff meetings, and lack of agendas to go with those meetings. He testified that part of the problem was due to technological error when trying to send notices via email. He said when that became clear to him, he would have his secretary post notices in the building and he also hired a technical staff member.

Castilleja testified that he'd been working in the building to restructure the school to make it function more effectively. He said that he and Pasiero-Davis discussed this and both agreed that it could take a significant amount of time. He also said that change creates upheaval and disagreements.

Feeney then asked Castilleja how he was notified that his services were no longer needed. He testified that on June 13, he went to school and someone brought him a letter stating his services were no longer required, and that two police officers were on their way to escort him out of the building. The letter, from the superintendent, said this was for his safety and the safety of the school district, he testified.

Castilleja was then asked how this situation has impacted his life. As he began to try and explain it, he broke down. He managed to say, "It's been a long couple of years," before having to take a break for several minutes.

Castilleja said that since the 2004-05 school year ended, he has applied for 63 administrative positions and received 60 rejection letters. He testified he hasn't been interviewed once.

During closing arguments, Tolcacher said that Castilleja's duties as Artz-Fox principal weren't substantially different than his duties as principal at Marysville. She also re-iterated that no complaints of racism or a hostile work environment were made until after he received an interim evaluation early in 2005. She claims Castilleja was fiscally irresponsible, leaving grant funds unexpended. She claimed that Pasiero-Davis could've opted not to put him on a plan of improvement, which she did in March, because there was no statutory requirement to do so. Tolcacher said Pasiero-Davis had done so because she wanted to see him improve.

In Feeney's closing argument, she said there had to be sufficient cause for non-renewal, that it couldn't be subject to the whims of a new, poorly trained or overwhelmed individual (2004-05 was Pasiero-Davis' first year as superintendent). Feeney said Pasiero-Davis violated state statute by not meeting with Castilleja until January to discuss goals.

She said that Castilleja had inherited an unfamiliar discipline matrix and was expected to put it into practice, staff was resistant to change and gossip was rampant in the school, as was racial stereotyping.

She said that Pasiero-Davis could have helped Castilleja succeed. But instead, facing mounting pressure from the union, "She sent him adrift."

The hearing examiner is expected to make a decision come mid-February. The school district has the burden of proof as to whether or not there was probable cause to not renew Castilleja's contract. The hearing examiner said that if district officials provide the proof, he must defer to their decision.


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