Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time to Vote Again

The ballots for the regular school board election began arriviing in mailboxes today. If you weren't able to attend the candidate's forum hosted by Citizens for 13J Excellence last Monday, I would encourage to watch the video of the event that has been posted on the group's blog before marking your ballot. It's a great opportunity to learn more about the people who will be in charge of our school district for the next four years.

You can find the videos here:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

We've Upgraded to Moral GPS

Central School District Recall
Unofficial Election Results
April 28, 2011
Final Election Night Post


YES 2065 (76%)

NO 649 (24%)

Election Results as of 8 PM

Yes - 1883
No - 597

Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin'

Click on the Play Button Below to Listen

02 - The Times They Are A-Changin'.mp3

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Response to Susan Stoops

Susan Stoops has started her own blog; you can find it here:

I had originally thought to just leave it alone but her final entry really pushed my buttons. So here goes - there a number of points I would like to make in response.

1) Her first post (and her entire blog) are titled "It's All About Kids." Her second post is titled, apparently without irony, "And now more about me." I don't object to her talking about herself; she is, after all, the target of a recall campaign and is trying to defend herself. But it is a little disingenuous to declare that it's all about the kids and then talk all about yourself.

If it's all about the kids, why give the superintendent a substantial raise last summer and a $225,000 pay-out when forced to resign? Altogether it totals a quarter of a million dollars, dollars that would go a long way toward the education of our kids. Actions speak louder than words.

2) She tells us a bit about her childhood and professional career but very little about what she has done as a board member. At no point does she discuss anything specific that she has done to improve education for our students. She says,

"The board needs to set and maintain values that support an educational system that prepares students for the immense challenges of the 21st century."

What policies and values was she responsible for developing? If it's all about the kids, tell us what you did for the kids!

3) In her ballot statement she declared,

"During my leadership, we've been recognized by ODE for closing the achievement gap at the middle and elementary school levels."

This was, of course, a complete misrepresentation since the recognition was conferred six months before she joined the board and the efforts to close the achievement gap preceded her by five years. Her response to getting caught telling a big fib?

"My ballot statement was completely misinterpreted. I would never take credit for anyone else’s work; in fact the accusation that I would publicly do so is ludicrous. My statement was global, not specific, and was intended to reflect the fact that I have helped set goals that have kept the focus on improving students’ academic skills during the time I have been on the board. I am offended that someone would take my words out of context and use them against me in an effort to disparage my reputation. I would have been foolish to put inaccurate information in a ballot statement."

"Out of context?" What context is she talking about? It's on the ballot!

Who is the offended party here? The folks who did the actual work to close the achievement gap or the person who waltzed in after the fact to claim credit? You be the judge.

4) She says that she is not responsible for the antagonistic atmosphere at school board meetings and that the fault really lies with her opponents.

"For example, at board meetings held since September, various staff and community members have shouted, sworn, been very rude and generally behaved in a manner that would never be allowed in any classroom in our schools."

There have been occasions when things have gotten a little heated and even a couple of times where I thought speakers crossed the line. But to brand all of her opponents as uncivil is ridiculous. There is video of the board meetings posted on this blog. Watch the videos and see for yourself how often people were "rude." Incivility is not merely defined by raised voices or the use of words like "hell" or "damn." Disrespect is communicated loud and clear when people are ignored. Watch to see how often she actually responded to polite requests and complaints. The bottom line? When people come before the board month after month, state their case, and get absolutely no response they tend to get a little testy. If you're going to be a public official, especially one who has been as unresponsive as Stoops has been, you're going to have to expect that.

We're still waiting for her explanation of how the list of signatories to the letter of no confidence was leaked to one of Hunter's supporters. At the last board meeting we were promised a letter by April 15th but have yet to receive a response to our complaint. Creating an "enemies list" and circulating it to your supporters seems pretty uncivil to me.

5) One of her more outlandish claims is that recalling her from the board would be harmful to students. She cites a study that asserts that politically motivated board turnover results in declining student achievement.

"Student achievement dropped in those school districts, where coherent leadership was often replaced with suspicion and pursuit of personal agendas."

First of all, we are not recalling her because of personal agendas or political motives. We are recalling her because she has been a bad board member. I doubt the author of the study is suggesting that board continuity is more important board competence and effective leadership.

Secondly, we are not recalling an entire board - we are recalling one board member. Does she really see herself as so important that they board cannot continue without her?

6) In response to the criticism that she has withheld information from other board members she states,

"There have been occasions when our attorneys have told me specifically not to share information with the rest of the board until an attorney was present. This is part of the role of the board chair."

No it is NOT the role of the board chair. I've been challenging this contention for four years now and so far no one has shown me the statute that gives school board chairs the authority to determine if and when other board members will receive information. Controlling information is always about controlling people. The board chair has no legal right to do so. Policies that direct communication through the board chair are designed to streamline and facilitate communication. Those policies are not designed to allow the chair to control communication. The chair has exactly the same authority and voting power as every other board member.

Nor is it the role of the attorneys to determine what board members will be allowed to know or when. Board members are elected public officials and have an absolute right to all relevant information. If the attorneys did in fact give that advice (and for ethical reasons they cannot contradict her claim even if it is untrue), then they overstepped their advisory role. The attorneys work for the board, not the other way around. If you hired a personal attorney, would you give them the authority to determine what you needed to know? I doubt it; you would probably want to know everything they knew about your situation.

At the candidate's forum last night, one of the current board members who is seeking re-election voiced her strong disapproval of Stoops' communication pattern. She was specifically angry about not getting information until minutes before the board had to vote and about letters and other communications being sent out on behalf of the board without the knowledge or consent of other board members. Video of the forum will be posted within the next couple of days on the Citizens for 13J Excellence blog and you will be able to hear her comments for yourself.

7) She contends that,

Sentiment against her comes from people who believe "board members should be able to go out in the public and conduct board business individually," she said. "That is against our policies and is not legal." (Polk County Itemizer-Observer April 26, 2011)

No one has ever argued that board members should conduct school district business individually. This is an absurd interpretation of calls for more open communication.

8) She claims that her opponents are immoral people holding our children's future hostage to petty politics.

"It seems to me that in the end, as my husband Jack says, what this is really all about is that our opponents lack a strong moral compass."

She also suggests that if the recall vote goes against her, it will demonstrate a lack of morality in our community as a whole. About her grandparents she writes,

"Their moral compass was straight on. I wish our communities could say the same."

I don't think we're immoral, or petty, or unlawful, or even uncivil.

I think we're a broad coalition that represents the diversity of our community. On our side we have a large majority of school district staff, several board members who have openly stated their unhappiness with her leadership, administrators, faculty, and students at Western Oregon University, business and civic leaders, parents and grandparents of current students in our schools, representatives of all ethnic groups in our community, a variety of religious viewpoints and occupations, and all political parties.

Not everyone agrees with us and that's just fine. That's why we have elections. That's why we need open communication and debate.

I think we have a terrific community! We've been through the fire together and we've learned a lot in the process. On Friday morning we will start rebuilding our school district and it will be better than ever before.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Candidate Forum Tonight

The winds of change are blowing through our school district and it's now time to turn our attention to the future. You are cordially invited to attend a candidate forum tonight. The candidates seeking office in the May school board election will be on hand to answer questions and share with us their ideas as we all move forward.

What: School Board Candidate Forum

When: Monday, April 25th at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Independence Public Library

Following the question and answer period, we will have the opportunity to chat informally with the candidates. Refreshments will be served.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Joseph Hunter has resigned as superintendent of our school district. You can read about the details of his settlement here:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meet the Candidates

Citizens for 13J Excellence will be hosting a forum for the candidates seeking election to the school board in May's election. The forum will be held at the Independence Public Library this Monday, April 25th at 7:00 p.m. This is a great opportunity to get to know the individuals who will be representing us for the next four years and to learn their positions on the issues confronting our district.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Will We Ever Know the Truth?

Susan Stoops' response to my complaint regarding the superintendent's mileage reimbursements, leave accounting, vacation buy-outs, and record keeping can be found here:

After receiving her response, I made a formal public records request for the directives she said were given to the superintendent related to improving procedures and policies and I also requested a copy of the Buck report. Since she claimed that the report exonerated Hunter from wrong-doing and only identified problems with record keeping procedures, there is no reason to deny public access to the report. Under Oregon statute, very few public documents, with the exception of employee disciplinary matters, are exempt from public disclosure.

In response to my records request, I received from Brian Hungerford (one of the district's attorneys) the letter dated March 23, 2011. In it he states that the district in invoking attorney-client privilege in denying my public records request. It's quite a neat trick. If someone files a complaint, have the attorney hire the investigator and then the investigative report can be concealed from the public under "attorney-client privilege." It is important to note that it is the client, in this case the Central School Board, who invokes the privilege but that they are not required to do so. They are not required to conceal this report, it is an active choice on their part. One wonders "Why?"

The other note worthy part of this letter is paragraph three in which Mr. Hungerford states that there are no written directives to Superintendent Hunter. This would seem to contradict Susan Stoops' statement that such directives had been issued. Perhaps they were given verbally in which case they don't really count, there is no record of them, and they cannot be used as part of the superintendent's evaluation. In other words, they're not really worth the paper they're not printed on.

Mr. Hungerford also states that while under Oregon law the whole report may be exempt from public disclosure, I could request a condensed version of the factual information contained within it. That I did and in response received the letter dated April 6, 2011. Read it carefully and tell me whether Susan Stoops' statement, "Based on the results of the investigation, it is the determination of the Board that the Superintendent has not engaged in behavior that constitutes a violation of the law or Board policy. Nor has he violated any directives or expectations of him as communicated by the Board" is an accurate summary of the Buck report. Four summary pages that detail a multitude of problems and non-compliance reduced to "Nope, nuthin' there!" (If anyone can follow the twists and turns of Section B, please enlighten me.)

I have appealed the district's denial of my public records request to the Polk County District Attorney, Stan Butterfied. He has asked for a copy of the Buck report so that he may compare its findings to the information provided to me by Susan Stoops and Brian Hungerford. After reviewing the report, he may well decide to order its public release. Let's hope so. It is probably the only way we will ever know the truth.

The documents to accompany this post can be found in the post below titled "Documents."


Included are:

1. My original complaint dated November 1, 2010(two pages)

2. Letter from Brian Hungerford dated March 23, 2011 (three pages)

3. Letter from Brian Hungerford dated April 6, 2011 (four pages)

4. Letter from Stan Butterfied dated April 14, 2011 (two pages)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hmm . . .

One of the claims made by Susan Stoops in her statement of justification is this, "During my leadership, we've been recognized by ODE for closing the achievement gap at the middle and elementary school levels." Big problem, though - it happened before she was on the board. Talmadge Middle School was honored for closing the achievement gap at an ODE banquet on May 11, 2007. Stoops was not appointed to the board until October 1 of that year. You can follow the links below for documentation and to read about the efforts made at Talmadge (scroll down the page) that led to the school's well-deserved recognition, efforts that began several years before Joseph Hunter even arrived in our district. Remember that when the two of them try to claim credit for any and all successes in our schools. What kind of person takes credit for other people's accomplishments? It also raises the very legitimate question - What else is she misrepresenting?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Time to Ring the Alarm Bell

One of our former superintendents, Forrest Bell, has been hired by the district to act as a go-between or buffer between Supt. Hunter and several employees who have filed complaints against him. This cost us $1,560.00 for the month of February. I don't yet have the figures for March and, at the last board meeting, Bell's contract was extended to the end of June. For five months, his work will cost us around $7,500, all of it necessitated by Hunter's inability to maintain productive working relationships with his staff.

Of course, that number may be over-estimated since Bell is rumored to have been on vacation for several weeks in March. One wonders how he was able to act as a buffer in that case. If things have deteriorated to the point that Hunter requires a go-between, but the go-between is absent, and the complaints have not been settled (as Bell's contract extension would suggest), can lawsuits be far behind? How much will this ultimately cost the district? Why has the school board not taken control of this situation? As bad as things have been, we are drifting inexorably toward disaster.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Recall Election

Susan Stoops will not be resigning but will instead face a recall election. The election date is April 28th with ballots mailed around April 14th.