School board investigates handling of complaints
Molalla River School District board members recently received a mound of email complaints about the district's athletic department directly from community members, prompting an investigation into whether the administration has appropriately handled complaints to this point.
Some of the emails claim that athletics fundraisers have been mismanaged, including that prize winners had difficulty obtaining or did not obtain prizes and that student athletes did not receive incentives, according to emails from Christina Conroy and Amy Edwards.
Another email from Booster President Beth Faulhaber noted that the Boosters have received excessive funding requests despite clear communications that the Boosters are not accepting new requests outside certain parameters.
Yet another email complaint focuses on a football coach's use of foul language and concerns over the handling of that situation.
Conroy is functioning as something of an unofficial liaison between the community and the board. She showed up at the board's June 13 meeting to verbally express concerns.
"I was advised to request an outside external investigation since I believe it is beyond the administrator's capabilities to be honest, fair and partial to what's been going on in the last two years," Conroy said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
In response to both the emails and Conroy's comments, the board members decided to add the topic to their discussion that night.
During discussion, Board Vice Chair Linda Eskridge was quick to note the emails do not provide enough information to jump to any conclusions.
"It's all hearsay, so I would want to get some clarification as to what's real," Eskridge said, "because I don't want mob rule to overtake someone's reputation. So I just want to make sure we're doing it right."
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Board member Ralph Gierke suggested two options.
"I've got 12 or 13 [emails] here, and a number of them have been labeled 'formal complaints,' which places them at our table," Gierke said. "Therefore, we have one of two choices to make: either we choose to ignore it or we choose to move forward with it and have an external investigation."
Board members Craig Loughridge and Neal Lucht both expressed a desire to allow the complaints to go through the formal procedure before the board gets involved.
The district does have a policy that outlines public complaint procedure. Per the policy, step one is for members of the public to discuss matters directly with the employee involved and if it cannot be resolved that way, to then move up the chain of command in the next steps. Step two is to work with the building principal. Step three is to file a written complaint with the superintendent. The superintendent is to investigate and prepare a written report of their findings within approximately one week.
If the complainant is dissatisfied with the superintendent's findings, the complainant can appeal to the board, per the policy.
Board member Jennifer Satter pointed to the fact that this policy does involve the board and therefore that the board has some responsibility to act in response to the complaints.
"The board policy on formal complaint process does escalate to the chair of the board and to the board," Satter said. "So procedurally, what we do have authority over is: it's our responsibility to make sure the process is followed and that the policy is being followed."
On that note, instead of launching an investigation into the claims contained in the emails, the board instead decided to launch an investigation into whether the district's complaint policy and timeline were followed.
"We follow board policy and procedure," Superintendent Tony Mann told The Pioneer. "It's my expectation that the organization runs in predictable ways that our patrons can trust—that they'll be heard, cared for and understood, and that we're responsive when issues arise.
"Those are my expectations and we follow board policies and procedures," he said.