In parting message, Portland schools facilities chief says project plans are 'unrealistic'
This story has been updated.
Documents just released to the Portland Tribune show the person in charge of accomplishing Portland Public Schools' myriad goals of improving facilities and making up for years of deferred maintenance thought the plans were "unrealistic."
As reported by the Tribune, Chief Operating Officer Jerry Vincent suddenly said in April that he would resign, just before the announcement of a major central office reshuffling and after reports that the 2017 bond projects were anticipated to cost $100 million more than expected.
In board appearances, Vincent occasionally seemed frustrated with the work load, the timelines and the school board.
Comments in newly released public documents seem to confirm those sentiments and signal trouble could be on the horizon for the district's many expensive school facilities plans.
In an April 20 email to Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, Vincent listed 31 projects that he said his transition out of the district would leave for someone else to manage. He ended the note describing his reasons for leaving.
"As I shared with you, I don't want to leave the district," Vincent wrote. "That said, the current (and what looks to be the future) state of affairs really impacts my ability to be that 'right person' [for the job]
"My current position is two senior directors and two chiefs in one. Although it saves the district over $400k a year, it is quite unsustainable."
In the Operations department, the senior directors of Nutrition Services and Facilities Asset Management are both listed as vacant on the PPS website. (Update: Portland Public Schools says Whitney Ellersick has recently been hired as senior director of Nutrition Services.)
Vincent, who is expected to still be employed with the district until the end of June, was charged with overseeing the school construction office, the maintenance department, the transportation department and other operational functions of the district. In an apparent reference to managing two massive bond measures, a move from K-8 schools to elementary-middle schools, and the 2016 lead-in-water controversy highlighting the dilapidated state of many PPS buildings, Vincent said the district's plans were "unrealistic."
"My thirty years in high-mid level management of projects/budgets tells me that the current environment is going to make it extremely difficult for the district to deliver programs/projects/expectations successfully," he said.
Asked for a response, school district spokesman Harry Esteve said: "We are still proceeding on schedule with the opening of two new middle schools and with health and safety work."
In Vincent's letter to Guerrero, he added: "On a personal note, I have enjoyed working with you and I do feel that you also are the right person at the right time; I just hope that the community/Board of Education give you the appropriate time/tools/patience in order for you to prove it."
Lopez, Pearson also leaving PPS
Chief Operating Officer Jerry Vincent is not the only high-level departure anticipated at the end of the fiscal year. Assistant Superintendent of School Instruction Antonio Lopez has taken a elementary principal job in the Battle Ground Public Schools district, according to an announcement on its website. He has worked at PPS since July 2003. His management of principals and district complainants has been criticized.
Mary Pearson, who led the district's special education department, is leaving to serve as director of Student Services at David Douglas School District. In recent years, she has been the focus of public frustration over the district's handling of several special education initiatives, including the abandoned move of Pioneer Special School's programs.
Pearson said her job change was her own choice and that she worked hard at PPS to move the needle for special education kids.
"Frankly, I'm going to David Douglas so that I can work in a smaller district and I can actually move the work," Pearson said. "This was a very conscious decision to leave. It's just odd that it coincided with all of this Pioneer drama."
She added: "Any time you're in a public position, you're going to be criticized no matter what you do. ...Being the special education director in a very political district, there's going to be controversy."
Harry Esteve, the district spokesman, said the district is actively recruiting for a chief of Business and Operations, which would assume some of Vincent's duties, and for Pearson's replacement. Esteve added that Lopez's position is not part of the reorganization of the central office.
UPDATE (5/25/18): This story was updated with comments from Mary Pearson.