The business and human resources departments of Vashon Island School District (VISD) are now in the process of undergoing a review, conducted as part of a consultancy by the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA).
According to Superintendent Slade McSheehy, the review process is a first step toward developing a solvency plan for the district, which faces decreasing enrollment, shortfalls in state funding, and the end of federal pandemic relief funding that is currently being used to pay some staffing costs.
McSheehy announced that he had engaged the consultancy services of WASA at a school board meeting on July 28, but did not name the consultant who would be working on the project.
In an interview with The Beachcomber last week, and in a community email sent on Tuesday, McSheehy shared more details, confirming that he had accepted WASA’s recommendation of Jacob Kuper to conduct the review — work that will be done remotely, said McSheehy, with only one site visit planned.
Kuper is the former longtime financial chief of the Issaquah School District, whose contract was not renewed this spring after he had served 18 years in the district. At the time, Issaquah School District spokesperson Lesha Engels told the Issaquah Daily that the district did not “and will not have a statement,” about Kuper’s contract non-renewal.
In August of 2021, Kuper made news when he shared his views about COVID mandates on social media, replying from his personal Facebook account to a public service post about masking made by the state department of health.
In the post, Kuper wrote, “What’s the end game with all this? Masks, vaccines and limiting freedoms for how long? My family has been in Washington for seven generations and this is the first time in my life that I despise this state.”
Kuper’s post continued, “It only took 200 years to get rid of smallpox. Let the virus become endemic and run its course, it’s here to stay. So happy for the strictest COVID-19 mandates in the US. I thought liberals loved freedom … and pro-choice… oh wait.”
At the time, The Seattle Times, KUOW and other local outlets reported on Kuper’s social media rant, and the story was picked up nationally by The New York Post.
According to The Seattle Times, the views expressed by Kuper alarmed a group of Issaquah parents, who said his statements made them question how well the district would implement protections against COVID-19. The Times also reported that Kuper was involved in labor bargaining for the school district — negotiations that included health and safety conditions for staff members.
Asked to comment on Kuper’s online statements, McSheehy declined, instead defending his qualifications to serve as WASA’s consultant at VISD.
“I don’t follow people’s personal views,” McSheehy told The Beachcomber, going on to detail WASA’s strong recommendation of Kuper and his long tenure as a top financial officer in Issaquah, during which McSheehy said Kuper oversaw 18 perfect state audits of that district’s finances. “We’re more concerned with his qualifications to review our practices and make a set of recommendations we will take to our budget advisory board that will impact the solvency plan we’ll present to the board in late October or early November.”
The review comes on the heels of the resignation of Matt Sullivan, who has served as the district’s executive director of business and operations for the past eight years.
The review, coming at a cost of approximately $6,600 to the district, will result in a report to be delivered to VISD in early October. According to a contract signed by WASA and McSheehy on July 28, the report will assess the budgeting practices, staffing and resource allocation of the business and human resources departments in comparison to those in like-sized districts, as well as the departments’ abilities to meet state and federal requirements.
Asked why these two departments had been singled out for review, McSheehy said that 80% of the district’s costs are embedded in staffing, which is under the purview of the Human Resources department. The rest of the district’s expenses, for miscellaneous operating costs, are overseen by the business department.
“It’s a full district review because everything umbrellas [under those departments],” he said.
Kuper, he said, would make recommendations that would be useful to VISD in terms of its long-term planning.
Asked if he had ever worked with Kuper in the past, McSheehy said no.
“We’ve had preliminary phone calls,” he said. “He’s in an information collecting phase right now.”
In recent years, the Issaquah school district, under Kuper’s financial leadership, has responded to budget deficits with proposals to significantly cut programs and staffing.
In May of 2022, the Issaquah school board approved a reduction in force (RIF) package that was criticized by parents and staff for essentially gutting the district’s Positive Behavior and Social Emotional Support department, as well as cutting the district’s athletic programs, according to King 5 News. In April, voters had approved a levy for the district that included a promise to continue funding the mental health support programs.
A year earlier, in 2021, the school board also approved a large RIF package, according to King 5 reporting, that initially proposed layoffs for almost 300 district employees to help cure a projected $36.7 deficit — a move school board members defended as “right-sizing” district staffing to adjust for declining enrollment.