Public outraged after board makes closed-door deal with schools chief

BATTLE GROUND, Wash. - Some people are outraged over a payout to the former superintendent of the Battle Ground School District.

Shonny Bria walked away from the job with two years left on her contract and a $400,000 settlement.

Voters in the cash-strapped district wonder if the board broke the law by keeping the deal quiet.

"The president of the school board kept this a secret," said Battle Ground resident Ken Love. "Everybody kept it a secret."

That kind of talk is common around Battle Ground these days after the behind-closed-door deal with ex-superintendent Bria. It took two months for the board to make the details public.

"If they'd been more open, there might have been more talking back and forth," said Battle Ground resident Bev Campbell.

Campbell said a different deal could have been negotiated "because the rest of us would have been involved, and we would have said, that's way too much. We can't afford that."

A lot of what was talked about in the deal was done in executive session. The rules say the public doesn't get to see or hear that. But the state does and there may be an audit happening as early as the middle of next month.

But putting out too much information, according to board member Mavis Nickels, could violate state laws, too. So the board asked the district to ask for the audit.

"We're not professionals. We are volunteers who care a great deal about our schools and about our kids," said Nickels. "And if we've done something wrong, we want to correct it. If we haven't done anything wrong, we want people to know that too."

Battle Ground resident Ken Love said: "It's just not right that they hide these things and think they can get away with it. I don't know what else to say but it makes me feel like I never want to vote for another levy. I don't care how many times they tell me it's for the children."

Board members say the next step in getting back the public's trust is to make sure the public is involved in choosing the district's next superintendent.