School board hiring McCleary attorney to go after the state


October 28, 2021

The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors listened to public comment, reports on food service, covid testing, and the amateur radio club, as well as a presentation from Apollo Solutions Group. They approved a resolution to put a replacement levy on a coming ballot, but one of the biggest items came quietly, following an executive session, after everyone else had chosen to go home or log off Zoom.

The board voted 5-0 to hire attorney Thomas Ahearne of Foster Garvey to represent the district in a suit against the state to pursue construction funding for their aging facilities. Ahearne was the lead litigator in the McCleary case in which the state was sued for failing to fund basic education sufficiently.

“The board met in executive session for over an hour, and over the next several weeks, they will be meeting with a variety of other people to plan their legal strategy,” Superintendent Brent Freeman said later.

In earlier business, the board approved a resolution to put a four-year $997,000 replacement levy on a coming ballot, with an estimated rate of $1.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. The levy would pay for items that are not funded by the state such as athletics, technology, school safety, instructional materials, maintenance, student activities, support staff, and more.

The meeting began with public comment, and people spoke about a variety of concerns. Some spoke for or against vaccine mandates. Others shared concerns about testing, critical race theory, a lack of mask enforcement at the high school, sex education for kindergarten students, and why the board didn’t answer the questions that were put before them at meetings.

“Coming to the school board about your kid having to wear masks is just pointless,” a student told the crowd. “Our school board cannot do a single thing about requiring us to do masks. It comes from the governor, not from the school board, so bringing it here and making complaints over and over and over again about your kids having to wear masks is futile.

"As far as critical race theory, anytime critical race theory has been mentioned, it’s been mentioned as a topic to discuss…They are teaching you to think for yourselves, and make opinions on these topics by yourself. They are not telling you what your opinion on the topic should be.”

Scott Lewis of Apollo Solutions Group presented the organization’s findings following a preliminary assessment of the elementary and high schools. He said that that they planned to hold strategy sessions in the future, and spoke about the advantages of working with their organization.

“The electrical service at the high school needs to be upgraded first and foremost before we do anything else,” Lewis said. “It’s a huge issue, in addition to the fire suppression issue.”

“Unless you upgrade the electrical, you can’t do anything else,” he added.

Other priorities include the roof, the locker rooms, the tech center, HVAC, and window replacement at the high school, and boilers, classroom HVAC, the gym HVAC, window infill and roofing at the elementary school.

Altogether he estimated the work would cost $17-19 million.

“We are looking at options,” Superintendent Brent Freeman said. “This is an option; we are going to continue pursuing this option, but we are looking to have no stone unturned.”

The district received a $137,000 grant that will allow them to hire staff to conduct contact tracing and to provide testing for athletes who are not vaccinated, staff, students, and their families.

“We will just be able to keep our kids in school. We know that is where they are best served by being here on campus, so we are doing everything we can to try to break those barriers down, by keeping the kids here and keeping them safe,” Freeman said.

Freeman addressed concerns about a chemical used to sterilize nose swabs and questions about a spit test, noting there were no residuals of the chemical on the nose swabs, and that no spit tests were authorized at this time.

Following a presentation from Krista Fritzie about food services, the board voted to increase adult meal prices to $4.75 and entree only price to $2.50.

Freeman said that supply chain issues were slowing repairs to HVAC systems, as well as the purchase of a bus.

Directors accepted resignations from high school baseball coach Jeff Rooklidge, middle school assistant basketball coach Matt Ohrberg, and approved the termination of two employees, a teacher and a staff member. They approved the appointment of Garrett Radcliffe to head baseball and wrestling coach, and hired personnel for contact tracing and covid testing.


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