Snoqualmie Valley School Superintendent Settlement: What went wrong? (part two)

On December 16th, 2022, Living Snoqualmie reached out to former Superintendent Dr. Lance Gibbon via email to see if he would be interested in answering questions about his separation from and settlement with the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

Gibbon declined to answer any questions regarding his employment with the SVSD but did give Living Snoqualmie a statement on how he feels about the valley and how he’s feeling now.

“…Much of our family, including our two adult boys, lives near the Seattle area. My youngest is studying at Seattle Pacific University to become a teacher, and the oldest is a computer programmer. Being close to them and the rest of our family was a big driver in leaving Oak Harbor, and we’re thankful to be here. 

While this experience has been very hard on all of us, we love Snoqualmie Valley and the wonderful little home we purchased. We enjoy walking downtown and visiting the terrific shops and restaurants or taking a stroll around the corner to visit the elk and spectacular views of Mt. Si.

Though we don’t know what’s next, after 30 years of public service to kids and families, my heart and passion for students and the community remains strong.” 

In a telephone conversation earlier in the week, Dr. Gibbon said he plans to remain in education.  

We also contacted all five of the Snoqualmie Valley School District board members on December 18th  to ask questions about the situation between the now-former Superintendent, Dr. Lance Gibbon and the board.

Snoqualmie Valley Schools District Office.

Since we were nearing the District’s winter break, it wasn’t sure we’d hear back until school was back in session on January 3rd. However, within 30 minutes of the first email contact, President Melissa Johnson emailed back, saying, “Thank you for reaching out and giving us an opportunity to answer these important and well-thought-out questions. As you can imagine, we will need to consult with legal prior to providing you answers. I will work on connecting with our legal representation tomorrow in order to get these answers back to you in a timely manner. I am hopeful that the holiday week will not cause a delay.”

Johnson followed up on December 19th to give Living Snoqualmie an update on the District’s timeline and provided answers on December 20th.

The first question we asked was one that appeared to be on everyone’s minds, judging by social media posts.

Question: Parents think the letter to the community was unnecessarily harsh and potentially damaging to Dr. Gibbon’s career. Can you explain the thought process behind the crafting of the letter?

Answer: The school board felt strongly that the community deserved as candid an explanation as possible for the reasons behind its decision regarding Dr. Gibbon’s separation.

The letter was developed and unanimously approved by the Board with that sole purpose in mind. Throughout this entire process, the Board acted on behalf of the District’s best interests and in no way intended to harm Dr. Gibbon or his career.

Question: The letter mentions a meeting and a planned course correction. Can you tell me what the course correction was and how it failed to happen?

Answer: Due to employee privacy laws, the school District is not at liberty to share these details with the media or public.

Question: There are claims that since Dr. Gibbon was a proponent of the arts and that this was the reason for his firing. Can you speak to the veracity of this theory?

Answer: There is no truth to these claims. The rationale behind the school Board’s actions is clearly described in the letter written to the community. Dr. Gibbon’s support of the arts was never discussed, nor was it a factor in the Board’s decision-making process.

The entire Board is fully committed to our school District’s mission and vision statements. We support all aspects of student education and believe that a strong suite of arts programming is an important part of providing a well-rounded and robust educational program.

Question: The separation agreement notes that his contract will be paid out by September 2023 and that he will retain his sick leave. Will the District have to cover the cost of his sick leave payout? It appears to me not according to this “UPON RESIGNATION, RETIREMENT OR DEATH, RCW 41.35.010, RCW 41.32.010, RCW 28A.400.212, RCW 41.40.010, WAC 392.136, SCHOOL Board RESOLUTION #572.” but I wanted to verify.

Answer: Since Dr. Gibbon was a public employee while he was employed by the Snoqualmie Valley School District, he is entitled under Washington State law to carry over his sick leave balance to a new public school district or public employer. Thus, the Snoqualmie Valley School District will not be responsible for paying out Dr. Gibbon’s remaining sick leave balance.

Question: The letter spoke of a ‘significant number of key leadership changes in the last year.’ Is this referring to two recent personnel changes in two SVSD elementary schools?

Answer: Part of the school board’s decision-making process regarding Dr. Gibbon’s employment involved the number of key leadership changes that occurred following last school year (2021-2022). While not the primary rationale for separating with Dr. Gibbon, there was concern that additional key leaders would leave this school year.

As noted in our letter, the school board firmly believes that all the school district’s current leaders are critical to our school’s ongoing and future success. The school board was worried about the amount of institutional knowledge that would be lost if more leaders were to leave the District.

Question: How does the Board plan to prevent such a mistake in hiring in the future?

Answer: It has been the Board’s practice to contract with national search firms to help recruit and vet candidates who apply for the position. Additionally, our hiring process has always involved extensive input from community, staff, students, and administration. In the 2021 interview process, over 100 community and staff members and nearly 50 administrators provided feedback which was taken into consideration when the hiring decision was made.

Each finalist was required to submit complex “homework” assignments to help gauge their capabilities and fit with our District. Unfortunately, hiring employees is not an exact science, and even such an extremely thorough hiring process can fail to identify weaknesses that don’t align with the Snoqualmie Valley District’s mission and vision. As a Board, we are focused on what we might do differently in the future.

So, the only new information we learned is that the SVSD will not be paying out Dr. Gibbon’s accumulated sick leave and that he likely will remain in the educational system. Beyond that, no one is talking on the record.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District has had four superintendents in six years, but while doing background research on this story, Living Snoqualmie found that this isn’t an SVSD issue or even a Washington State issue.

According to Joel Aune, Executive Director for the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) and a former Superintendent for the SVSD, the number of New Superintendents by Year in the State of Washington (September 1) was as follows:

YEAR:                NUMBER               AVE TENURE OF CURRENT SUPTS   

2022:                  80 (27%)                                         3.7

2021:                  60 (20%)                                         4.2

2020:                  39 (13%)                                         4.8

2019:                  44 (15%)                                         4.6

2018:                  47 (16%)                                         5.0

2017:                  36 (12%)                                         5.3

2016:                  42 (14%)                                         5.2

* Number: districts with a new superintendent starting the school year (some experienced, others first-year). % is of all school districts in the state of Washington (295).

Nationwide in the last couple of years, there have been a significant number of superintendent buyouts.

Aune noted that there was a 25% turnover nationwide last year, compared with 14-16% in years previous, and numbers here in Washington state are consistent with national trends.

He said that WASA does not track separation agreements other than those they become aware of through the media, official school district communications, or word of mouth.

For last year (2021-22), they know of five confirmed separation agreements in Washington state. However, there may have been more. Says Aune, “these five are those of which we are aware.”

Oregon has had so many buyouts in recent years that Oregon senate bill 1521 passed to offer protection to superintendents facing ‘without cause’ termination from school boards.

Theories abound online as to why this is happening, but again no one is talking. For the time being, the Snoqualmie Valley School District has Interim Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt.

Schlotfeldt was selected as the Interim Superintendent by the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors during the Thursday, Sept. 22, School Board meeting. 

Says Board member Carolyn Simpson, “As a school board member, I have had the opportunity to closely assess the strengths of our superintendents as to their focus on the education of our valley students. I am very pleased with the work that Interim Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt, the administrative team, and our employee groups are conducting in this pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning.”

Board president Melissa Johnson was asked what the decision-making process will be in deciding whether or not to keep him (Dan) in the role of Superintendent and said, “The process of hiring a Superintendent is critical to any school district. In our District, we have been very successful in growing the skills and experience of our existing staff and promoting from within. The best course of action is based on a carefully constructed succession plan that allows potential candidates for leadership positions to be identified and receive the professional development and experiences they need to take on more responsibility. To be able to promote an individual who is well known to the District is far less risky than a recruitment process. It was unfortunate that for our most recent Superintendent search process, no internal candidates applied, and we had no choice but to rely on an external search.

Dan has been with Snoqualmie Valley School District as a teacher, a principal, and an administrator; his skills, knowledge, and experience are well known across the District. His work as Interim Superintendent over the last three months has been at the level we expect from our teaching and learning leader. Nevertheless, it is the intention of the Board to carry out careful due diligence, checking with stakeholders at all levels in the District and the community to validate our view of Dan’s performance in the role. We will share details of this process in the next few weeks.

“It is the Board’s intention to make a decision as soon as the necessary due diligence has been completed.”

For now, it seems all interested parties need to practice patience. Three SVSD board positions will be up for election in 2023, and no announcement has been made regarding plans for a new Superintendent search.

Living Snoqualmie will update this story should any new documents become available via public records requests in the coming months.

Comments are closed.


  • Very thorough reporting but as you report no one is talking, except in generalities. Congratulations on resisting the modern trend of speculation.

  • First, I’d like to point out that there is an error in this article: SVSD has not gone through four supers in 6 years, it has been three over nearly a couple decades, inc Gibbons (Aune, Manahan, Gibbons). Aune left understandably for another higher level role at WA state level, Manahan, who was performing admirably by nearly everyone’s standard, sadly retired due to unforeseen illness, and now Gibbons. So it’s not quite a rotating door compared to many other districts (eg, look at what has happened in the Seattle SD over the years).

    Second, having myself serve in senior management, CEO, and board director roles much of my career, I know that it is tough for a board to hire what amounts to a CEO, which is what a superintendent is in a school district, that can do a good job & hopefully excel. It can be a bit of a crap shoot despite extraordinary due diligence to reduce risks of selecting the right person. Often, the best candidate does not come from within the organization, so it would be reticent to not include external searching. Much of that has to do with assessing management style that affects organizational culture and performance. A superintendent or CEO serves at the pleasure of the board of directors, who are the hiring and firing management. It’s very important for the super to be in close contact with the board, follow their guidance, and especially follow their explicit direction. The super also must have the skills and knowledge to properly manage their direct reports, mentoring, guiding, and directing them to fulfill the strategic plan (if it exists, and in the case of SVSD it does) and the board’s direction; that can be a challenging balance of retaining good talent versus making changes to affect progress toward better outcomes. It appears on the surface to me that there was a breakdown there which relates to Gibbon’s firing. SVSD has an “active” board, which I for one think is appropriately needed, as opposed to a passive rubber-stamping board in other districts for their supers. A super who was left to pretty much do whatever they wanted in recent or past roles might have a problem adjusting to SVSD’s board, which may lead to dissatisfaction and conflict. My impression of our board directors are that they are also good listeners who can be convinced by a super to change their positions, but that takes the proper skills backed by evidence to do that, something that good supers & CEOs possess. It seems to me that there was a gap in this case on that point as well.

    Third, I believe that the entire community that includes parents, district employees, business leaders, and especially the taxpayers who pay so much to fund SVSD deserve to know the reasoning the board takes to fire an unsatisfactory superintendent. I believe that the public statement provided by the board does a good job of this, is not unduly “harsh”, and serves to bolster a feeling among the taxpayers who elect the board directors that they are most importantly heavily involved in looking after the effectiveness of their tax funding. I am also one that supports the idea that even if the reason for a firing becomes public, which often does, especially if it is legally defensible, that serves as an evaluation point for the next hiring organization about what they are getting in that person as a candidate. To illustrate via an analog that we’ve heard so much about, there are police officers fired for excessive brutality, sexual harassment, etc, that are able to repeatedly go on to successive hiring departments who had no idea and they turn out repeating their offenses; we even had such occur in our own police department here. Nurses and doctors who did malpractice moving on to another state or city. Teachers fired for sexual assault on their students moving on to another school. Etc etc. This public statement of reasoning behind Gibbon’s firing is not anywhere near that level, and frankly it is quite common for any super or CEO to have been fired for not meeting a performance plan, so I don’t see this as unduly affecting his career. It is very likely yet another district out there in the world that will both hire and like him. Let’s not feel sorry for him, especially given the huge separation payment to tide him over.

    Unlike his two predecessors, I never met and had discussions with Gibbons, but despite that I am not upset at his firing as I believe that our board directors have the experience, background, skills, and knowledge to assess when somethings not working out to the benefit of our district and kids. I do not know specifics, my comment here is educated speculation. I am very concerned about our board doing more to not see a repeat of the mistake of hiring a super that turns out to be far different than expected. I am also concerned about an employment agreement that provides what I believe is extraordinary termination payout with poor definition of “cause”; that ia taxpayer funds that will not be spent benefiting our kids’ education, and is equivalent to a significant number of teachers who cannot be hired as the enrollment grows.

    1. Wow, well written and gives me pause regarding my frustration over lack of specifics beyond failure to meet performance expectations. Perhaps it truly is inappropriate for the board to release further information. I appreciate the additional ideas to consider.

    2. Your theoretical conjecture is all very interesting but as you say, you had no interaction with Dr. Gibbon. As a very active district parent who did have experience working with Dr. Gibbon, and to see some of the positive changes that were happening, I can say he was absolutely wonderful to work with. He was strongly liked and appreciated by parents and especially by students. Many current district employees who are afraid to speak publicly have privately told me they are in agreement. Sadly, the way this was executed (and that’s a perfect word for this) was highly unprofessional. I have never before seen such a nasty letter from any respected business or government body. What does it mean to say that someone is ‘focused on matters of their personal persona’? Seriously, what does that mean? Ask any HR professional if they have ever written such a letter. Even if he was not meeting a target, they had options including firing him for cause (and thus not paying him $600,000 for three years salary) or telling him it wasn’t working well and allowing time to seek another position (as a previous Superintendent was job seeking for years while at the District). That’s what professional organizations do. Instead, literally the first week of school they fire someone with no warning. As a taxpayer, I am appalled at the extremely wasteful and capricious way this was done.

      1. Linda, I submit you’re a bit naive about the manner of how the top executive of an organization is often terminated and the reasons behind it that may be selectively revealed. Unless you are a director sitting on the board and having executive meeting discussions with the superintendent and private meetings with his reports, some of whom may be coming to them, you and I have little to no idea what was actually going on regarding the relationship of Gibbon and the board he reports to which is of prime importance. Just because he had some parents and staff that loved him does not in itself justify him being kept on while failing his improvement plan with the board, in fact it would be wrong for the board to ignore his failings and continue to see strategic goals missed which in turn wastes taxpayer funding. You stated he was fired without warning, but that is simply not true: re-read the board’s statement about how he was placed on a performance improvement plan after regular evaluation, far in advance of his termination, which for whatever reason he failed to follow through. I get it: you liked him, along with some others…but personal affection and your approval of what YOU think of his performance in the role should not be the excuse for failure to recognize that the performance reasons cited in the board’s statement to the public & taxpayers should be set aside. The superintendent does not report to you, parents, or his subordinate staff. Not that such relationships with parents, public, staff, and taxpayers does not matter, they do…but the board of directors has the explicit, direct responsibility for monitoring & evaluating performance, and attempting to correct performance failings and if no satisfactory improvement then terminating and moving on.

        You may have found the messaging from the board unusual, but I see it as pretty mild compared to what I have witnessed over the past 45 years of my career in business, and in other school districts I’ve lived in. If anything, their message was *unusually* considerate of their target public audience, us taxpayers in particular. As you recognize you heard me state, I had no interaction with Gibbon, but that is not relevant at all in this matter, and I submit neither is your interaction. We do not need to know more about the details of this matter, and attempting to dig it out is tantamount to just trying to embarass Gibbon further in the end, perhaps making his future employment even more difficult, or perhaps the desire to force more to the surface is driven by some other agenda, perhaps related to how you may feel about our fine school board?

        On that note, if you wish to know how hard it is to hire, manage, and fire a superintendent, you should seriously consider running for a school board director position, and if you’re successful convincing voters you’re worthy of election, you can add your input to a board decision about superintendent improvement plans and if needed termination (which in this example was apparently unanimous, which in itself says something as I have witnessed many votes of our board in the past that were not unanimous). Be aware that you would be subject to legal liabilities and unusual responsibilities imposed upon you in a director role…which is why this serious stuff is nearly always reviewed by their Seattle-based law firm before release. Know also that board director roles are political, as they are elected by district voters; in contrast, a superintendent role is not elected by the public voters, thus is not political, therefore you cannot expect the type of probes and trash that comes out of political roles that you see on TV everyday that some people want to watch while sitting back eating their popcorn.

        I do agree with you that the $600K payout is a mistake. Extraordinary compensation for a smaller school district like ours. Perhaps it was one that was unavoidable in the way his employment agreement was written, which then means the employment agreement was faulty in my opinion. Perhaps it was avoidable under that agreement. Regardless, that is the real travesty in this. Because that taxpayer money, which I commonly refer to as “Teacher Units” instead of dollars when I speak to the board (1 Teacher Unit = the fully burdened annual cost of one teacher), means the district has lost several Teacher Units going forward with our increasing enrollment, likely with little opportunity to convince voting taxpayers to make up the difference.

        1. Once again you admit you have had no interactions with the person who was discharged suddenly and you have swallowed hook, line and sinker the Board’s attempts to justify it with their libelous allegations. Nor did you answer my question re: what it means to say someone is ‘focused on their personal persona.’ Show me another such letter written by a school board and we can compare language. Your statement that the satisfaction of the community with his service is not relevant or that we have no right to form educated opinions on his performance is nonsensical. Of course the community’s satisfaction should be considered, just like you are entitled to your opinions. Many in our community are horrified at what happened not only because we believed he was doing a good job but because what happened appears fundamentally unfair in so many respects. The fact that we liked him personally makes it painful to read their personal attacks on him, hence those of us who knew him and saw his actual work are disgusted with the board. While the board has wide discretion for these matters they are not omnipotent, they do not operate in a vacuum and they they can’t be arbitrary and capricious. Your conjecture about what I know about business and HR is incorrect, and calling me naive is highly amusing! Whether the board was following the advice of their attorneys advice is a great question. It appears they didn’t and is one of the things we we may need to find out. Failing to follow attorney advice may likely be considered malfeasance and this particular instance of it puts the district at legal risk not to mention they are going to have an even harder time attracting top talent in future. Whether there was ever a corrective action plan is another question that can only be proven by the District complying with the public records requests they are currently sitting on. Some of us are eagerly awaiting their documentation.

          1. Okay…so your stripes are proudly showing now, Linda. You have twisted my statements way out of line into something that I never stated; one example is your statement that I view satisfaction of the community as irrelevant; since others have already seen that I written the opposite in my comments on your responses, they too can see that you have an agenda to unduly smear me and our fine school board. You are an angry friend of Gibbon who will go to great lengths in your dirt digging to seek some type of revenge against anyone that disagrees with your view on this matter. Since you are taking such a heavily biased approach without the background, skills, and knowledge to properly assess what has taken place here, I am going to move on myself in my continuing private engagement with our public over the things that really matter in our school district instead of a petty molehill over a district employee termination: improving academic outcomes, student to teacher ratios, supporting talented teachers & their continuing pro development, fiscal efficiency, life & career prep, reducing taxpayer burden, and interacting with the school board and staff as needed in my volunteer work within the district to seek progress on those things. If you can’t speak to those MUCH more important matters, then I can no longer hear you, so my engagement with you on this thread is now done.

            1. Clearly we can’t agree to disagree on this subject without your stating openly that you think I don’t know as much as you about these things, I have no relevant knowledge or perspective, and without making personal attacks as to ‘dirt-digging’ and ‘agendas’. I have not smeared you in any way – in fact I know you are another dedicated school supporter like me and many others. I have seen you attending school board meetings and volunteering at school because I have been there, too. Are you interpreting my disagreement with your statements and my refuting theoretical conjecture with facts as a personal attack on you? You may be misinterpreting my objection to being called ‘naive’ and talked down to about whether my opinion is based on career experience and knowledge. Your statement that I am ‘without the background, skills, and knowledge to properly assess what has taken place here’ is perhaps what some might call a smear, and a condescending put down. As I made no such rude remark to you I am surprised to see you write that. I also will continue to work to make our community and schools the best they can be and that includes holding elected to their professional standards – that’s what this article and dialogue is about. My track record of being a positive force for change is clear to people who know me. Lumping everyone who is concerned about this debacle into a category of ‘angry’ people who are merely acting out of friendship is overly simplistic and not helpful to figuring out what happened and furthering the dialogue to create a path forward.

  • Hi Stephen,
    We are counting the current Interim Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt. Just a fact, not a criticism. Thanks for the comment.

  • Thank you Living Snoqualmie for further investigating this issue and to the parents and community members who attended the school board meeting to ask questions and express the displeasure of the community. I’m pleased to read the school board elections are happening in 2023!

  • Living Snoqualmie