SKSD directors approve school budget … and then weirdness ensues

Hacker breaks into Zoom webcast and disrupts board meeting

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD — The big news Wednesday night was that South Kitsap School District’s board of directors approved the district’s annual budget.

The weird news of the night, however, involved the board’s virtual live Zoom meeting platform, which was streamed on Facebook. The webcast came to an abrupt end after it was unexpectedly hacked by an unknown source.

Watched by at least 118 viewers, the meeting was interrupted when the feed was suddenly overtaken by a video cartoon of a guitar player, loud music and a drawing of an obscene figure.

Following the unauthorized hack, the district posted this message on Facebook: “Our apologies, the meeting ended abruptly due to a hacking incident. No further action was taken.”

Prior to the hacking, the board was able to vote 4-1 to approve the nearly $164.7 million budget for the 2020-21 school year. Voting to adopt the budget were board directors Liz Sebren, Rebecca Diehl, John Berg and Eric Gattenby. Jeff Daily opposed the budget. Prior to the vote, Superintendent Tim Winter had endorsed the budget.

Explaining his opposition to the budget, Daily said, “Of the increase of $8-9 million, about $7.5 million is for salaries. I pointed out last time the auditor’s office remains concerned about salaries and we cannot continue to run salaries and pay and benefits at $8 million a year.

“You can’t do that forever,” Daily said.

“This budget adds 16 people to it — that’s about 1.5 million. The bottom line is the budget continues to go up, we continue to need more money.”

In voting to approve the budget Sebren said, “It’s not time to cut any monies. We are asking the schools and the district to do more with less.”

She said the pandemic has resulted in more requirements for personal protective equipment and additional requirements to clean schools and buses.

Directors John Berg and Eric Gattenby also endorsed the fiscal plan, but both directors also seemed inclined to agree with Daily that SKSD should look to reduce the amount of the next school levy.

Reading from a lengthy written statement before the budget vote, Berg said before casting his vote to approve: “By my calculations, the total tax revenues estimated on the budget are overstated by $1.2 million. However, our monthly budget reports indicate the year-to-date revenues exceed the budget estimates by about $2.5 million and our expenditures year-to-date are below the budget estimates by 6.8 million.”

Berg said the new budget will leave the district with “a healthy financial reserve” that will allow the next school levy to be lower than the one put before voters in 2017.

Also during the virtual meeting, the board shared its disapproval of Daily’s suggestion to allow open public bargaining between the school district and various school unions.

“I don’t think there is any reason we wouldn’t adopt that if we are truly open,” Daily said.

But Gattenby countered that “My concern is we have not heard from the five collective bargaining associations to make a more informed decision.”

Superintendent Winter said he had spoken with three union presidents, who told him they were not in favor of open public bargaining.

“It’s not because we have anything to hide but because we have worked hard to create a collaborative process and there are concerns this could damage or change something that is working well,” Winter said.

Several directors said they would like to hear directly from union representatives about their opinion of the proposal. The board agreed to hold a public hearing on the question of open public bargaining at its Jan. 20 meeting.

The hacking incident took place during the superintendent’s report to the board. But prior to the interruption, Winter reported on outcomes from the district’s parents/students survey concerning the modes of student learning over the upcoming school year.

Of the 3,500 responses received from students and parents, 28 percent indicated they preferred online learning while the majority wanted a “flex” model that put students back in school at some point, he reported.