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Meeting Dec. 7, board hears from legal counsel and search firms, directors question chairman's actions

COURTESY PHOTO: YOUTUBE - The Newberg school board met on Dec. 7 to discuss the search for a new superintendent.

The Newberg school board took the first official steps toward replacing Superintendent Joe Morelock during a special meeting called by chairman Dave Brown on Dec. 7.

The board's legal counsel, attorney Lisa Freiley from the Willamette Education Service District, suggested the board consider appointing Dr. Dave Novotney as interim superintendent while the school district conducts a search for a permanent superintendent over the next two to eight months. Novotney has been superintendent of the WESD, an agency that serves 21 Oregon school districts and more than 81,000 K-12 students, for the past nine years.

"This is kind of a stopgap measure to create some stability in that position and to also meeting some of the legal requirements we have, to have a superintendent who signs certain reports and various things that may come due during the window while we are looking for a superintendent," Freiley said.

Novotney has committed to serving for 60 days in the district, Freiley said, at no cost via an agreement with the WESD, of which Newberg is a member.

The effort to replace Morelock, whose contract was terminated via a 4-3 board vote in November, typically involves hiring an executive search firm to guide the district through the process of seeking qualified applicants for the job, vetting those applicants and recommending the top applicants to the board.

The drive to replace Morelock began several weeks ago when Dave Brown, without the approval or knowledge of the rest of the board, approached Assistant Superintendent Derek Brown to see if he would be interested in the job. Derek Brown indicated he was not interested in the position, the chairman said.

"I have been working all week long on bringing in an interim superintendent and a new board secretary and would hope to have this completed by next Monday," Dave Brown said in an Nov. 17 email to the board. "Please let that sink in this morning and you can email me with any questions you may have."

On Nov. 24, Dave Brown requested that school district communications director Gregg Koskela, who was tasked with some of the duties of Morelock and board secretary Jenn Nelson since her departure, schedule a special board meeting on Nov. 30.

"Please set up the Zoom meeting for the board," Dave Brown said in an email to Koskela. "District policy says 24 hours is needed to inform the public, so this is no issue. There will be no public comment at this meeting, so this makes the meeting go much easier. There does not need to be any district presentations at this time."

Koskela responded that, under board policy, the chairman can only direct the actions of the superintendent and board secretary and that there was insufficient time to set up a Zoom meeting in just a few days. Koskela also advised the other board members of Dave Brown's request via email:

"According to policy … board members interact only with the superintendent and the board secretary. Both positions are vacated currently. This directive by Chair Brown violated policy. Board secretary duties are not in my job description. This directive is asking me to perform job duties that are not in my job description, adding hours to my workday."

Koskela also responded to Brown's request, concentrating on the rush to schedule a meeting counter to state statutes:

"If I am going to go outside of my job description and perform the duties of an interim board secretary, I am going to insist on following public meeting law. A board secretary's responsibility is also to insist on upholding our responsibility as a public organization to appropriately inform the public what specific business is on the agenda, and to provide the materials needed for the public to have background information on those items. As you know, several lawsuits have been filed against the board, including one for violation of public meeting law. I will not put myself or the district at legal risk by taking on the de facto role of board secretary without taking measures to follow state law and board approved policy."

Freiley said at the Dec. 7 meeting that Dave Brown advised her he wanted to put an interim superintendent in place in January, prompting Freiley to reach out to five executive search firms for proposals that were supposed to be presented to the board that night.

Board director Brandy Penner questioned whether the timeline Dave Brown was seeking was reasonable given the steps required under board rules and guidelines by the Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission that often require that candidates give 60-days notice to their former employers.

Director Rebecca Piros mirrored Penner's remarks, admonishing Dave Brown for steps he allegedly took without consulting the other board members. Among those actions was Brown approaching Mark Thielman, superintendent of the Alsea School District and a Republican candidate for governor.

"I just want to make sure we are doing these things in an orderly and proper fashion and according to policy …," Piros said.

Thielman acknowledged in an Oregonian story that Dave Brown had approached him at a GOP function in early October, nearly six weeks before Morelock's ouster, about his interest in the Newberg superintendent position.

"It's not outside the purview of Dave's job as board chair to be fishing around for candidates to come in and do a good job in Newberg," Thielman told the Oregonian. "Has he asked me if I would be interested? Yes. Has he asked me to come in and lead? No."

Dave Brown responded to the allegations as well. "Director Piros, I never offered anybody anything for superintendent at Newberg School District," he said. "It's not my role, that's a board decision … that didn't happen."

Brown acknowledged, however, that he had a conversation with Derek Brown to see if he would like to be interim superintendent.

"Did you have the authority to do that?" Piros responded.

"Well, we needed somebody," Brown retorted. "He would be the most natural person in line, being assistant superintendent, to step in. I just asked him if he was interested."

The board heard from two of the five consultants scheduled to give presentations that night: BreakThrough Consulting and McPherson & Jacobson. Representatives from both agencies said how their firm would go about the superintendent search would be entirely up to the board, including whether they wanted a long-term search or a quick search with a successful applicant chosen in January.

The board recessed before hearing from all of the consultants, so Freiley requested that board members submit their questions of the consultants to her, and she would return their responses to them prior to the Dec. 14 regular board meeting, where the board could select a consultant to lead the search.

The board is also expected to hold an open session on Dec. 16 to give the community an opportunity give input on the superintendent situation.

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