Gattenby resigns from SKSD school board

Tension between directors have created a dysfunctional cloud over body

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD – Eric Gattenby, president of the South Kitsap School District Board of Directors, submitted his resignation, effective immediately, in a Sept. 28 letter to Superintendent Tim Winter.

Gattenby’s resignation was a surprise to Winter: “I did not know this was coming,” the superintendent said by telephone Friday morning. “It was surprising.”

The school board president was in the middle of a four-year term set to expire in 2023.

Eric Gattenby

Eric Gattenby

In his resignation letter to Winter, Gattenby wrote: “My time as Director for the District has been the most rewarding work that I have been a part of, you and the other Directors have my thanks for the opportunity to have served alongside of you.”

Attempts to reach Gattenby for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

Gattenby joined the board in August 2018, when he was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Seward Stevens. He was elected to serve a full term by district voters in November 2019.

When asked if he knew why Gattenby abruptly stepped down, Winter said, “Eric has said he wanted to keep the reasons to himself and I am going to respect that.”

The superintendent did point out that being a director is a demanding and time-consuming commitment, and it can interfere with other parts of the lives of board members.

A positive force

Winter said the departed president had been a positive force on the school board.

“I think he was very careful in his thoughts and process. I also appreciated, in his role as president, the communication he and I consistently had as we worked together to move the district forward,” the superintendent said.

Winter said he also appreciated Gattenby for a personal reason: “He was one of the five board members that hired me, so I’m grateful I’m here and that he was a part of that.”

Even before the resignation, the board was preparing to two lose two board members who chose not to run for reelection — Liz Sebren, who represents District 3, and Rebecca Diehl, director for District 4. On Nov. 2, voters will elect two new members to replace Diehl and Sebren on the board.

Although Gattenby has been silent about his reasons for resigning, it’s fair to say dysfunction and a poor working relationship among board members likely played a major role in his departure.

This has been a turbulent period for the school board, and Wednesday’s virtual meeting was no exception.

During the meeting, the directors disagreed whether the board needed to accept Gattenby’s resignation or simply acknowledge it. Director John Berg said the board simply needed to acknowledge it while fellow board member Jeff Daily insisted the group needed to formally accept the resignation. During the contentious discussion that was livestreamed and recorded for playback, Sebren was heard to grumble, “This is bull——.”

Following discussion on a separate matter, Daily complained that Berg had cut off discussion before a vote had taken place. Berg said debate had ended but Daily continued to talk, leading the board to pass a motion to mute Daily for a short period.

Animosity has been a staple of board meetings, conducted either virtually or in person. During a board meeting this spring, Berg called for an investigation into Daily’s alleged improprieties. That prompted Daily to offer up up a censure resolution aimed at himself. Out of frustration, Sebren told the board, “We have a dysfunctional school board right now. We need intensive training to help us get over our personalities.”

Gattenby’s resignation came past the deadline for candidates to file for his seat this election cycle. Instead, a replacement will be appointed by school board members to serve out his term. Applications for the vacant spot will be accepted through Nov. 21. Candidate interviews will take place in early December, and then on Dec. 8, the board will hold a special meeting to select the new director.