Two of three school district complaints unfounded
Molalla River School District has investigated several of its administrators over the last few months in response to two community members filing multiple formal complaints. Two out of three complaints were unfounded.
Investigation into text message complaint
Community member Michael Giard was first to file a complaint. He did so on July 3 against former Athletic Director Todd Moore.
The complaint stems from an instance in June, when booster club member Christina Conroy and several others sent complaints to the board against the athletics department and administrators involved with that department.
At that time, the Molalla Youth Sports board sent a letter to inform the school board it would no longer work with Moore, calling him "dishonest and incompetent to work within [MYS's] goal to help bring Molalla Youth Sports and Molalla High School sports closer together." All MYS board members, including Giard, signed the letter.
The letter found its way to Moore and on June 26, Moore requested a transfer out of his position as athletic director, email records show. He now teaches at the middle school. The next evening, June 27, the school board approved Superintendent Tony Mann's recommendation to hire Kristen Rott as Molalla High School associate principal and district athletic director.
Moore told The Pioneer that he didn't personally know the vast majority of the MYS board members who signed the letter, that he didn't understand why they would call him "dishonest" and that he made concerted efforts to bring MYS and MHS sports closer together. He showed various examples to The Pioneer of how he had reached out to MYS.
He said he felt blindsided and was disheartened as to how the MYS board handled the situation.
Then on June 28, Moore sent texts to Giard, public records show, and other members of the Molalla Youth Sports board, Giard confirmed.
"I was disheartened and saddened to see your signature on a document (that didn't have the courtesy to be sent to me) stating I have been 'dishonest' and that 'MYS would not work with me,'" Moore said to Giard, per records of the text messages. "I was especially discouraged to hear you were the instigator of that letter."
Giard told The Pioneer he was not the instigator of the letter.
The messages show that Moore further called the letter "unfair" and a "cheap shot."
Moore said he didn't text Giard out of the blue but showed he had a two-year existing text conversation going with Giard.
But in response to the texts, Giard filed a separate formal complaint against Moore on July 3, claiming Moore had violated the district's harassment policy and anti-retaliation policies by sending electronic communications to Giard and other members of the Molalla Youth Sports Board. Giard later added that Moore had violated the cyberbullying policy.
Human Resources Administrator Dave Luce investigated the complaint and found on Aug. 7 that the text messages "do not constitute either harassment, retaliation, or cyberbullying," as defined in the district's policies.
Investigation into Superintendent Tony Mann
After filing his complaint against Moore July 3, Giard attended the school board's July 11 meeting and announced during the public comment period that he would be filing a formal complaint against Superintendent Mann. Giard has been attending the board sessions regularly since July 11, often making public criticisms at the beginning and the end of the meetings.
Giard's complaint against Mann is four-fold.
Per the complaint, Giard alleges that Mann failed to follow policy in his swift hiring of Rott as athletic director, that Mann's role as chair of Oregon Recovery High School in Lake Oswego violates policy and is a conflict of interest, and that Mann has not ensured district policies were reviewed annually. Finally, Giard asks how MYS's communication to the school board ended up in Moore's hands.
The school board had asked Mann at the July 11 meeting to explain the process of hiring Rott. Per the meeting minutes, he explained that the district had posted an associate principal position at the middle school and among those candidates was Rott, who he said was a fit for an associate principal/athletic director role.
"Mr. Mann explained that given the board concerns around athletics it was essential to act swiftly in hiring Ms. Rott; and if we had delayed and sought out an additional candidate pool, we would have lost her," the minutes say.
The district's policy CCC allows for an expedited hiring process of a licensed administrator if it would be beneficial to the district, with prior board approval. The board did approve the hiring of Rott on June 27 before Mann sent an email to Rott that evening making her employment official.
The school board met to discuss Giard's complaint in an executive session on Aug. 22, according to a complaint response letter Board Chair Linda Eskridge sent to Giard.
The board found that Mann did not violate policy in the hiring of Rott since the hiring was ultimately the board's decision.
They also determined that Mann's role as chair of the recovery high school is not a violation of policy, partly because he is not paid for that role.
"The Board sees this as a positive contribution by Superintendent Mann to both society and the education environment in Oregon," Eskridge said in the letter.
Regarding Giard's concern about up-to-date policy, Eskridge explained that a committee meets every month to review policies and that the responsibility to update them is shared between the board and the superintendent. Eskridge said in the letter that it's not accurate to say Mann violated policy.
Finally, the board found that it is appropriate for Mann to have shared MYS's communication with Moore.
Thus, all Giard's sub-complaints against Mann were unfounded.
However, Giard said he is not satisfied with the results and has filed an appeal with the state ethics commission, the state board of education and the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Investigation into board room incident
Molalla's board members received yet another complaint on Oct. 30 from Conroy, the community member who served as the unofficial liaison between the community and the district in the June complaints against the athletic department.
Conroy, along with Giard, has been attending board meetings since July 11, also often commenting at the beginning and end.
In one case, Conroy spoke during public comment to address an email she had sent to Chair Eskridge, wherein she said her husband described board member Craig Loughridge as "an ass." During the comment, she said that was better than quoting her daughter who had said, "What a dick," per meeting minutes.
Conroy told The Pioneer that she later apologized to Loughridge and said she's "not trying to be hurtful or throw anybody under the bus."
Her Oct. 30 formal complaint follows an incident that occurred at the district's Sept. 12 board meeting.
There, Conroy again commented, this time to say that not everything in Business Manager Rick Gill's earlier report was accurate regarding district communications with Molalla Communications over a potential reader board contract.
After she made that comment and while the meeting continued, apparently Gill approached her to ask what inaccuracies were in his report, according to Conroy's formal complaint and letters from Jeanna De Risio and Vicki Helmig, who were in attendance. Conroy said he did so "angrily." Luce also turned around, stuck his finger out toward Conroy, she says in the complaint, and said Conroy absolutely owed Gill an explanation.
Conroy said she felt uncomfortable and intimidated, according to her complaint.
"Really what they did, that was harassment," Conroy told The Pioneer. "I'm not stupid. I know that was harassment. It was uncalled for, and anybody who goes to a board meeting shouldn't feel like if they go up and give a comment that that's going to happen to them."
Both De Risio and Helmig corroborated Conroy's complaint. Helmig called the administrators' behavior "shocking and completely inappropriate."
An independent investigator, Milt Dennison, investigated and found Gill's and Luce's actions were inappropriate.
In a complaint response to Conroy, Mann said Gill and Luce have expressed their regret and Mann directed them to have no further contact with Conroy.
"As you may already recognize, it is against board policy and the law for me to report to you details regarding disciplinary action taken with employees," Mann wrote in the complaint response to Conroy. "I can share with you, however, that this matter has been unmistakably addressed."
Both Gill and Luce declined to comment.
Why so many investigations?
Perhaps the first question is, why so many complaints? Both Giard and Conroy expressed to The Pioneer that they believe there is a general distrust in district leaders.
"The bottom line, it's not just about Tony," Giard said. "I think the board, and in particular a couple members that I won't call out, seem to do whatever Tony wants. And I don't think that's representative of—you know, it's not transparency, and they're not acting as good stewards. This is my personal opinion."
When asked what he hopes to come of his public comments and formal complaints, Giard said he wants to get a bond passed.
Molalla voters have not passed a bond to fund school district facilities since the 1990s, after the Spring Break Quake damaged the high school. Now the middle school is in poor condition, but constituents have voted down the last two bond measures to fund construction of school facilities.
"You want to know why I'm doing this, is I want the bond passed," Giard said. "And the biggest thing I've heard is they don't trust the district or the superintendent and there's a lack of transparency and there's a lack of accountability. And that needs to change."
Mann refutes the idea of distrust, saying, "I really believe that the parents and children who are served in our district overwhelmingly have confidence in what's happening in their children's classrooms and in their schools."
In a recent survey the school district conducted, the 292 respondents expressed satisfaction with school leaders and teachers.
"Administrator hires at the middle school and high school recently have been a positive improvement," one survey respondent said.
Board member Jennifer Satter offered her personal opinion on why the district sees many investigations.
"As an individual, I feel like compared to other districts, the board does expect issues to be looked into and policy to be followed," Satter said, "and I feel like the board is committed to addressing those issues."
Mann seemed to agree that the district ought to and does take complaints seriously.
"I think any time you have an organization that serves thousands of people, there are going to be concerns that rise," Mann said, "and we have an obligation to treat those concerns, when they rise, seriously every time."
Regarding complaints, Satter pointed out that the board will soon hold a public forum to work on revising complaint policy throughout the district. Citizens will be able to offer their input. No date has been set for that forum.
"That will be a great way for the community to participate and have an opportunity to really help the district move forward in a way that addresses everyone's needs," Satter said.
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