At an acrimonious board meeting that lasted past midnight, Bellevue School District board members declared that there was “evidence of misconduct.”
School district leaders rebuked the Bellevue High football program Tuesday, declaring that there was “evidence of misconduct” and setting up a potential two-year ban for the team’s celebrated head coach.
In an acrimonious board meeting that lasted past midnight, Bellevue School District board members did not explicitly decide that head coach Butch Goncharoff would be subject to such a ban. But, in addressing concerns about the program, they said any coach found to have accepted money in violation of board policies should be ineligible to renew their contract for two years.
That sort of violation “should be dealt with severely,” said board president Christine Chew as the board issued guidance for district staff members to follow in the coming days.
The Bellevue booster club said recently that it has paid Goncharoff about $60,000 per year. But state rules require any coaching payment of more than $500 in a season to be approved by the school board — something that hasn’t happened at Bellevue, according to a recent investigative report from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
Bellevue football investigation:
The booster club has argued that the payments didn’t violate the rules because they were for activities other than in-season coaching, so the issue remains in dispute.
Bob Sulkin, an attorney for Goncharoff, said Wednesday the board’s announcement won’t impact the coach because “there were no violations.”
Board members said the WIAA report showed “evidence of misconduct and insufficient oversight.” The school now has the option of proposing its own sanctions to the KingCo Conference, and board members emphasized that they’d like to see sanctions impact adults instead of student-athletes.
Board members also said they would develop policies to require the booster club to provide detailed financial reports and require boosters to cooperate with any future WIAA investigation. The WIAA report had said the booster club was uncooperative.
As the board prepared its statement, attorney Marianne Jones, the wife of assistant coach Pat Jones, interrupted the board, accusing them of violating open-meetings law.
In reply, Chew said Jones was doing more damage than good by arguing over technicalities of the rules in the aftermath of the WIAA report. There was a bigger picture to consider, Chew said, such as what sorts of values the district wants to display for its students.
“The conversation should not be about walking a gray line,” she said.
“There’s no gray line,” Jones retorted. “It’s black and white. You guys just are ignorant enough not to know what is happening in your district.”
At one point, Jones moved to the front of the room and began recording the session on her phone. As the meeting ended after midnight, Jones approached the front of the room and threatened the board members:
“I will file an open public-meetings act violation against you guys in the morning. I’m serious. You guys will now have a lawsuit and now I’ll get all of your records in discovery.”
Board members said their four hours behind closed doors was spent discussing personnel matters, which is permitted by state open-meetings law.
The 68-page investigative report released last week found that coaches had directed players to attend classes at a private alternative school, that team boosters subsidized pricey tuition at that program, that players’ families provided false addresses to gain eligibility and that Bellevue administrators willfully ignored rules violations for years.
John Connors, a former Microsoft CFO who leads the booster club, told the school board Tuesday he expects the booster club to be fully vindicated. Connors said the WIAA, in a zealous attempt to find violations, didn’t follow its own guidelines for investigations and went beyond the scope of what the district had asked the organization to investigate.
“If this was a courtroom, this case would be dismissed immediately,” Connors said.
In an interview with KING 5 released Tuesday, Goncharoff said he was bitterly disappointed by the investigation.
“At first I cried, and then second, I kind of laughed, and third, I just looked at it and said, ‘This doesn’t make sense at all,’” Goncharoff said.