Teachers express no confidence in Tukwila School District superintendent

Nancy Coogan

Teachers in the Tukwila School District are calling for the resignation or removal of Superintendent Nancy Coogan.

The Tukwila Education Association (TEA) — the union that represents the district’s teachers — presented a vote of no confidence in Coogan to the school board in a letter dated Feb. 9.

According to the letter, 288 of the 297 certificated and classified employees of the union took part in the vote and 83 percent of the membership expressed no confidence in Coogan’s leadership. Another 12 percent were against the vote and 5 percent abstained.

“The strength of the results speak for themselves,” the letter said. “The membership came to this decision with a thorough understanding of the mismanagement of the district funds under Dr. Coogan’s leadership, her inability to hire and maintain a stable district leadership team (and) her inability to maintain transparent, respectful communication with our members.”

The district hired Coogan as superintendent in 2013, replacing Ethelda Burke — who was placed on administrative leave and resigned in July 2012, following allegations the district created a hostile work environment for 10 of its employees based on their race, sex or color.

TEA president Brian Seigel said the decision to present the vote of no confidence was not one made lightly.

“Over the past eight months we have worked to avoid this extreme action by focusing our work and efforts on finding mutually agreeable solutions to the challenges that we face,” Seigel told the school board at its Feb. 28 meeting, which was attended by dozens of teachers and staff members. “We met with district leadership consistently to address the failure of the district admin team to communicate clearly, involve membership in key and clear decisions and provide accurate and timely information. Information we received changed from meeting to meeting. Action items were not acted on and promises of improved communication remained largely unfulfilled.”

Coogan sent a memorandum to district staff on Feb. 21 responding to the vote.

“I take the vote of no confidence — and the concerns and issue raised — very seriously,” Coogan said in the memo. “The school board and the community have set challenging goals for this district, which come with demanding, and at times, uncomfortable changes. … I hear that you are not shying away from the challenge, but you need greater support from me.”

Coogan outlined in the memo five steps she plans to take, including creating an online forum to address staff’s questions and concerns, re-establishing weekly meetings with the unions, implementing more formal and documented communication of major decisions, setting up listening sessions with building representatives and provide online biographies and contact information of school board members.

“Four of these five actions steps listed had already been requested by the association long before we sent out the letter,” Seigel told the school board. “Therefore, at this time, we find these action steps lacking authenticity and believability.”

In the memo, Coogan said the steps are not remedies.

“Rather they will hopefully re-establish a foundation and open the dialogue to move forward,” she wrote. “Words are easier to come by than actions, and I will remain steadfast in my dedication to Tukwila while engaging with you differently. Our district is on a positive path, and we have made some incredible gains recently. With some re-prioritization, careful planning and heavy attention to communication, I believe we can come together to do the great work that we all want on behalf of students.”

Seigel called on school board members to take action.

“The school board is the elected trustee of this community’s schools and therefore in service to the Tukwila community,” he said. “We are all responsible for ensuring that our students are provided with the best opportunities to be successful. Our students will be the ones to lose the most in a district that’s this fractured where as decisions that impact our classrooms’ abilities are made without the input of teacher and staff.”

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 925 Tukwila Chapter and the Tukwila Elementary School Parent Teacher Association (PTA) sent letters in support of the vote of no confidence to the school board.

Jenifer Castillo, a parent of Tukwila Elementary students and the fundraising chair for the school’s PTA, expressed a need for change in the district’s leadership during public comment at the Feb. 28 board meeting.

“That the school board would act in support of Dr. Coogan and this administration after dismissing the concerns brought forth by the union, by the parent group, also the voting public is shocking and disappointing,” Castillo told the board. “While you present instances of budget turnaround and individual success stories of administrators, you continue to drive a bigger wedge between yourself and the parents and employees of this district. This is not a playground disagreement. We are not going to sit down while you shake your finger at us and tell us to play nice. These are our children your choices are affecting. These are educators who go to work every day feeling as though their voice has no meaning because this superintendent has created a system that dismisses their input and undermines their concerns.”

The school board issued a written statement concerning the vote.

“The board acknowledges and respects the opinion of teachers and principals,” according to the statement. “We recognize that change and dealing with difficult issues may not be for everyone, but we believe that significant change is required in order to serve our students and prepare them for their future. We have a difficult task ahead, and we can only attain our student achievement goals collectively. Again, we express support for district officials, and commend the superintendent and her management team for their work in addressing difficult issues and for putting students and families first.”