Coupeville dean of students loses job in budget cuts despite outcry

Outcry to save the job of Coupeville’s longtime dean of students failed to persuade school leaders.

A community outcry to save the job of Coupeville School District’s longtime dean of students failed to persuade school leaders.

A group of people attended the school board meeting Thursday night to show their support for Tom Black, dean of students whose position was eliminated in the latest round of budget cuts announced on June 21.

Prior to the meeting, Black’s supporters found creative ways to show their support. A petition, “Keep Tom Black as the Coupeville Dean of Students,” has garnered nearly 400 signatures so far. Students painted the school’s iconic message rock with “Bring back Black.” Social media and the Coupeville Sports blog,, have been filled with stories of the positive impact Black has made on students and families.

Facing declining revenues, the school board earlier this year instructed Superintendent Steve King to reduce expenditures by up to $1.45 million for the 2023-2024 school year. Black’s position was announced in the latest round of cuts. The savings for eliminating his position is listed in school documents as $85,000 a year.

Thursday night, about two dozen people attended the school board meeting to voice support for Black. Parents of former and current students became emotional when crediting Black with helping their children through times of mental hardship and helping them graduate.

A parent recalled calling Black when his child was struggling with his mental health. In an hour, the dean showed up at their house to help. Another parent said he is the reason why Coupeville High School is one of the safest schools her child has ever attended.

“He goes above and beyond the call of his duties, he’s a special individual,” Paul Johnson, whose daughter attends Coupeville High School, said after the meeting. “I’ve never heard of a disciplinarian at a high school being spoken about like that.”

“I urge them to reconsider — shave something here, shave something there,” Johnson said. “Perhaps people could take a bit of a pay cut and make this happen.”

Johnson’s wife, Michelle, said she worries for the wellbeing of students without Black.

“He’s an educator, not just a safety person,” she said. “Why would you not want that in your arsenal of weapons and tools to educate and grow great human beings?”

Like other parents who came forward with their testimonies, Michelle Johnson believes that letting go of Black is unfair when the board is prioritizing the relocation of the tennis court, or paying $100,000 a year for a “fancy” food service chef.

“I would easily sacrifice any of that to know that (my daughter’s) got someone … like Mr. Black who’s going to advocate for our students and also teachers,” she said. “How many other facilities and organizations in schools would cut off their right arm to have someone like that in their employment?”

The district runs a noted food program that “focuses on scratch cooking with whole foods and local sourcing of food when available and cost effective,” the school website states. The food service director and the assistant food service director make, respectively, $100,213 and $79,475 a year, King wrote in an email sent to The Whidbey News-Times. The entire budget for food services is $863,155, with revenues projected to be $525,532. Additionally, the Connected Food Program has already seen about $130,000 in reductions.

“Any further reductions could lead to less student and staff participation in the program which would negatively impact our budget by reducing our revenues,” King wrote, adding that the director’s salary is comparable to that of the food directors at the Oak Harbor and South Whidbey school districts.

The superintendent also wrote that the relocation of the tennis court and and parking improvements were approved by voters and that capital project funds must be used for what was advertised during the election, and not to pay for staff or other items that were not included on the ballot.

In response to the testimonies given at the board meeting, King acknowledged people’s frustrations and concerns.

“It’s upsetting for me, it’s upsetting for our staff, and it’s upsetting for our community,” he said at the meeting. “This is the place we have to make these reductions. And I think it’s extremely unfortunate given everything our students and staff have been through the last few years … our students need better services, but unfortunately that’s not the way things are working out. I don’t think I support one decision that I’ve made during this budget process, none of them are good ideas. But bad ideas have to happen right now.”

The school board did not discuss the issue and took no action, though King told The Whidbey News-Times that the decision is likely to be final.

“The board could always reconsider and give me direction to change things however with the current budget situation, it is unlikely that we will be in a position to reverse reductions,” he wrote in an email.

Michelle Johnson speaks to the Coupeville School Board Thursday night. (Photo by Luisa Loi/Whidbey News-Times)

Michelle Johnson speaks to the Coupeville School Board Thursday night. (Photo by Luisa Loi/Whidbey News-Times)

Photo by Luisa Loi/Whidbey News-Times

Michelle Johnson speaks to the Coupeville School Board Thursday night. (Photo by Luisa Loi/Whidbey News-Times)