Colville and Valley school districts have been told that they violated state law regarding personal contracts formerly held with each other’s district superintendent, according to the findings reported on the Washington State Auditor’s most recent accountability audits set to be finalized on Dec. 10.
During the Sept. 1, 2009 and Aug. 31, 2011 audit period, Valley Superintendent Mark Selle and former Colville Superintendent Ken Emmil worked with the Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs at both districts simultaneously under private contracts separate from their employment. The districts have been cited for being in violation of the conflict of interest law to say that the superintendents, as municipal officers, appear to have been paid by two districts for the same job and benefited at both districts for contractor work performed.
While serving as superintendent of Valley School District and superintendent of Columbia Virtual Academy (CVA), Selle was contracted by Colville School District from March 2008 to May 2011 to help set up an ALE program intended for the CVA partnership. Selle said the Colville board of directors hired him after Emmil discovered he did not have the time or expertise on hand to create the ALE program he desired.
Selle created CVA, which is an online distance learning program, in Valley in 2003. VSD is now the host to 14 other school district partners statewide. Colville partnered with CVA until June 2012.
Selle said that he was hired by Colville just as any other outside consultant would have been with experience in developing ALE programs.
“A superintendent makes a living by delegation, my area of strength,” Selle said. “I have been building programs my whole career, and built four programs in 13 years at Valley. I was confident I could do the work.”
In an email, Selle stated, “The scope of work covered by the contract was outside of what is provided to CVA partner districts, such as Colville, by the Valley School Districts’ ALE program administration. Consequently, my total work hours grew substantially.”
He was paid separately for his work in Colville based on performance per request of the Colville School Board. This amounted to $6 for each full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrolled at CVA-Colville per month.
Selle said he was not in control of which students were assigned to Colville School District as that is handled by the Valley School District enrollment department and based on a variety of factors.
Selle terminated his contract with Colville School District voluntarily in 2011 once he felt the program was running independently. It was growing considerably and there was full-time principal to administer CVA-Colville in place by that time.
His two and a half year contract totaled about $99,000. Also during 2010 and 2011, Selle was paid approximately $33,000 for his work as the administrator for CVA through the Valley School District. However, Selle said the district no longer separates that in his current employment contract, which covers all his duties as Valley superintendent.
According to the draft audit reports, the Colville School District also paid approximately $2 million to the Valley School District for ALE program assistance during the 2010 and 2011 school years as a CVA partner to cover administration costs.
During his contract with CSD, Selle said he worked closely with the Colville Deputy Superintendent at the time, Michael Cashion, to help develop the program. Cashion is now the current superintendent.
According to the Colville School District’s response to the audit finding regarding the Selle’s contract, “The contracted services performed from March 2008 through June 2011 include supervision and evaluation of the Colville ALE Principal, weekly-to-monthly on-site meetings with the Principal and other district staff, frequent phone conversations and correspondence between CSD and the Valley Superintendent addressed in the administration and operation of the ALE-CVA programs.”
The state auditor’s office also cited that a separate contract between Emmil (Colville’s superintendent at that time) and Valley School District also violated the conflict of interest law during the same audit period.
According to the report, Emmil’s contract was unclear, ambiguous and poorly written. The audit report also described Selle’s contract with Colville similarly.
Emmil was hired by Valley School District in 2009 to help set up an ALE program specifically for serving at-risk students through distance learning as a state-wide partnership with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The program model was based on the Panorama program Emmil set up in Colville, which is still in operation.
However, Selle said Emmil ended the contract voluntarily in 2011 after it saw no success due to many limitations at the state level. He received approximately $75,000 during his time with VSD.
Selle said both his and Emmil’s contracts were approved by Valley and Colville school boards in open public meetings and remained as transparent as possible. The responses on the audits from both districts state that both districts were unaware that it would be a conflict of interest for either party.
Selle said he does not believe the contracts were illegal because for one, superintendents, according to a ruling in 1965 by the attorney general, are not municipal officers.
“There really was no conflict of interest as the law requires an elected official to get compensated by a third party,” Selle said. “Two municipalities have to be involved and have separate illegal contracts.”
Both districts also responded to the audits by saying they would look at all contracts more closely in the future to make sure they comply with the laws at the auditor’s recommendations. The auditor’s office replied briefly by thanking the districts for their information, promising that they will review that process at the next audit. No other action was required of either district regarding either contract.
The Valley School Board met for a special meeting on Nov. 30 and have released a statement to the public that states:
“The Valley School District (VSD) Board of Directors, governing body for the CVA program, had full knowledge of all actions, followed due public process, and all contracts were legal and legitimate.
“Despite this, and for its own reasons, the SAO has made its position clear, and the district is at the State’s mercy. The SAO says there are problems that need to be fixed. Therefore the district will work to fix them to the State’s satisfaction and keep its focus on working together to help students become educated, caring, contributing citizens and to achieve their individual greatness.”
All audit reports for Valley and Colville school districts were drafts at the time of newspaper publication.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff