BI schools must go out of system for leadership

With the recent leadership implosion of the Bainbridge Island School District and its confusing school closure fiasco, the school board would do well to take a serious look at itself and consider the long-range future for the district.

The board cannot ignore the crying need for greater transparency and more reliable long-range planning data. Reams of data, which only facilities experts can decipher, do not make for better decision-making. More importantly, the board must recognize its leadership crisis, which should not be set aside for another 18 months.

The board and administration owe the community an explanation for how its building utilization figures for 2022-23 show that all buildings except Commodore have a utilization factor of 80%-88%. What does that mean in common-sense terms? Just how many little-used classrooms are there in the district and where? And with continued enrollment decline, where will even more underutilized classroom space be found? That information may not lead to school closure, but it will inform decision-making for potential grade-level reconfiguration for certain schools. That issue is on the horizon.

Consequential decisions must be made soon about the unsustainable Commodore facility and the extensive maintenance needs at Ordway. Those factors underscore the need to house Odyssey and Eagle Harbor in educationally suitable quarters, where other school programs will not infringe on their unique needs. Impact on special programs and individual schools must precede any talk of retrenchment and school closure. As a reminder, the loss of revenue incurred by declining enrollment can only be truly remedied by cuts in staff (or not filling vacancies due to retirements), including administration. Closing a school should be a last resort, not an opening bid.

If the district had steady enrollment, reliable budget projections, and minor facilities issues, and if the community and staff were in full support of the direction of the district, the board could afford to hire an insider for its future superintendent. That is clearly not the case. I urge the board not to repeat history by hiring another central office administrator who does not have an established track record of helping build and implement a long-range vision for a school district like ours. In such a challenging environment, seasoned leadership experience matters.

I encourage the board to seize the moment and not delay finding a new superintendent. Do not repeat the flaws of the previous superintendent search process. A good search firm should actively recruit young dynamic leaders and not be allowed again to present a bland slate of placeholder candidates. Do not let this opportunity slip away. Too much is at stake.

Stephen Rowley was superintendent of the Bainbridge Island School District from 1997-2002.