By Marcy Stamper
The Methow Valley School Board directors and superintendent have decided not to renew the contract for Mike Wilson, the activities director and dean of students at Liberty Bell High School.
The district placed Wilson on paid administrative leave in October to cooperate with a law-enforcement investigation into a situation involving an incident with a student. The investigation is still ongoing and no charges have been filed, according to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable.
As an exempt employee, Wilson had a year-to-year contract that has had to be renewed annually. He did not have tenure and was not a member of the union that represents teachers and other staff, said Venable.
Wilson’s contract expires June 13. The matter was discussed in executive session along with the district’s legal counsel on May 15, at which time the board took no action to renew the contract, said Venable. Venable notified Wilson on May 23 about the district’s decision.
In an interview this week, Venable said, “It doesn’t seem reasonable or in the best interest of the district to continue to allocate taxpayer funds for administrative leave.”
Wilson had been with the district for 11 years, first hired as a coach and then as athletic and activities director. Two years ago he was also appointed dean of students. As dean, he monitored students’ progress and assisted any who were struggling academically or behaviorally, said Venable.
No details have been released about the investigation, both because the matter is under investigation and because it involves a juvenile, according to Okanogan County Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy Dave Rodriguez. In the letter written last October placing Wilson on administrative leave, Venable referred to the “serious nature of the allegations.” Administrative leave is not disciplinary.
The law-enforcement investigation stems from an incident in which a student broke a window on Wilson’s vehicle before the homecoming football game in October. The investigation into the window breaking was completed long ago, but a related investigation into the history of Wilson’s interactions with the student is not complete, according to Rodriguez.
“We have waited patiently while maintaining a level of neutrality and avoiding making prejudgments,” said Venable.
While Wilson has been on leave, the school district has had Hunter Maltais, the transportation supervisor, fill in as activities director, and Jane Orme, who retired from teaching last year, as dean. Because they are also paying Wilson his full salary, this means the district has been paying twice the regular salary for the posts, said Venable.
“I’m not sure people would believe it’s reasonable for a district to keep someone on paid administrative leave in perpetuity,” said Venable. “No one anticipated the investigation would be so long.”
Venable acknowledged that the district’s decision could create the perception that they are convicting Wilson without any charges’ having been filed, but he said that was not the intent. The district remains neutral and will allow law enforcement to make any decisions, he said.
Two dozen community members attended the school board meeting on May 28 and the dozen who spoke all voiced their support of Wilson. Many criticized the district’s decision about the contract, according to Venable.
The district has also heard from community members who said they appreciated the district’s efforts to remain neutral and supported the decision not to renew the contract, said Venable.
The Chelan County Sheriff’s Department has been handling the case since early this year, after the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department provided results of its preliminary investigation.
As of last week, the Chelan County detective handling the case said they were still conducting interviews and gathering information and could provide no timeline for when the investigation may be complete, said Venable.
The school district has not decided whether to continue with the dean of students position, but would require any candidates to have a teaching certification, consistent with other districts in the state, said Venable. The district will also review the qualifications for an activities director before posting that job.
Wilson could not be reached for comment.