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Union reps rebut claims against Oregon Trail School District superintendent

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - WEA President Megan Smith was one of four reps from the union to talk at the Nov. 12 school board meeting.The parent of an Oregon Trail School District student presented a scathing complaint to the district's board of directors. The parent said she remains dissatisfied with the board response.

Cara Robinson filed the complaint on Sept. 18, accusing Superintendent Aaron Bayer of mismanagement and chastising the board for its "lack of meaningful oversight and accountability of our district's superintendent."

Robinson's complaint cited teacher turnover rates at Oregon Trail Academy, Firwood Elementary, Sandy Grade, Welches and Boring middle schools as "evidence" of mismanagement.

There is a "lack of accountability for Aaron Bayer with the school board concerning his ethics surrounding his position as superintendent (and) decreasing accountability for Aaron Bayer in his management of (school district) OTSD 46 with the school board," Robinson said.

She also said Bayer has received a 61.6% increase in salary over the past seven years without going through a formal performance review.

The Post reached out to Bayer but he declined to comment at this time.

Robinson aired her complaint publicly at the Oct. 14 board meeting, recommending the board consider an outside formal review by an impartial third party, examining Bayer's job performance during the past seven years.

Robinson is asking that the review include a survey of all teachers, as well as past and present school principals, regarding Bayer's performance.

Robinson returned to the public board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to express frustration with a lack of response to her earlier complaint.

"I had expected a reply, or at least a communication," Robinson said. "Your lack of response shows your unwillingness to look into concerns and constructive criticism about policies within this district. I feel this has a negative impact on the trust between parents, the community and the school system. What does it take to get a meaningful response from the School Board about our concerns? We elected you to listen and address our concerns. ... It is frustrating to be silenced and ignored when advocating for our children's education."

Complaints not from teachers

Four representatives of the Wy'East Education Association teachers' union attended the Nov. 12 board meeting, where they testified that Robinson's complaint unfairly represents teachers and their appraisal of Bayer's job performance.

"What I heard at the last board meeting gave me pause," union Co-President Megan Smith said. "It sounded as though others were attempting to speak on our behalf, to tell stories that sound as though they represent the many when they actually represent the very few and far between. The problem is that my members didn't do the complaining; it was done 'for' them by people who were not elected to speak on behalf of the over 200 members that I was, in fact, elected to represent during these School Board meetings."

Alison Conner, the union representative for the East County Bargaining Council, said roughly 30% of new teachers leave education within the first five years nationwide, adding it's not rare for new teachers to leave the profession entirely. "Given that reality, a certain level of teacher turnover is, if not guaranteed, entirely predictable," Conner said.

At the Oregon Trail School District, turnover is calculated in multiple ways. The raw counts include teachers transferring within the district. Such transfers happen for a number of reasons such as grade level changes, location changes, district needs and more. These counts do not represent true turnover, as those teachers don't leave the district. Officials said the percentage of turnover is a complex statistic, which can be distorted easily and misrepresents the true numbers.

Conner said the turnover rate at the district was within the statistical norms for Oregon and was not a reflection of teacher disappointment.

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - A formal complaint was filed against Aaron Bayer on Sept. 18. Teacher departures

Robinson was disappointed by the testimony from the Wy'East Education Association, saying their comments and presence "felt very out of place."

"This was never about teachers, or speaking on behalf of teachers' happiness/unhappiness, or their jobs," Robinson said. "I have no issues with any teachers in this district. My use of teacher turnover rates was to show that we are having problems in some of our schools. The teacher's responses seemed be responding to a hearsay version of my complaint and speech given in October."

District Board Chairman D.J. Anderson formally responded to Robinson's complaint with a letter on Wednesday, Nov. 13. The letter refuted Robinson's claims regarding turnover percentages, saying her use of the data didn't tell the whole story.

"Teachers leave schools for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with morale," he said. Anderson listed retirement, resignation in lieu of non-renewal, intra-district transfers, moves away from the area, a poor fit for a particular school, and more as reasons for teachers' departures from the district.

"If you exclude intra-district transfer from the equation, our district falls well below the state and national averages in this regard," Anderson added. "Furthermore, FTE re-allocation adjustments (teachers/specialists split between schools who are reallocated annually based on need) and change in marital status also affect the appearance of teacher mobility within the district even though no mobility actually occurred."

Anderson also addressed Robinson's notes about Bayer's salary increases, saying that "even though it is commonplace for superintendents to negotiate their salaries and the terms/tenets of their contract with the Board it is important to note that Mr. Bayer has never petitioned this board for an increase in salary."

Overall, Anderson noted, "the formal complaint filed by (Robinson) and the subsequent presentation she made to the School Board on Oct. 14, 2019, failed to provide a single example of how the district's 'purported' high turnover rate has led to any untenable consequences for the district. In fact, the complainant failed to register a single example of how this purported problem causes harm to the district in any substantive, meaningful way."

He also noted in response to Robinson's call for "accountability for Aaron's job managing principals when teacher turnover rates are consistently around 25% and over" that "there is no indication that any substantive negative consequences have stemmed from the district's teacher turnover rate and therefore no board action has been necessary in this regard."

"The district (board) firmly believes that Superintendent Bayer has conducted himself with the utmost integrity throughout his tenure and has received no allegations or evidence to the contrary regarding this complaint," Anderson wrote. "The No. 1 focus of this board has and always will be the academic success of students in the classroom. Unlike many of the accusations in this complaint, academic success is objective, tangible and measurable. Superintendent Bayer has been undeniably and remarkably successful in that regard. The key indicators for measuring the success of a school district are how well they maintain their fiduciary (fiscal) responsibilities, the employee relations they establish and maintain with their bargaining units, and the academic achievement of their students. By all accounts, the Superintendent has far exceeded his contemporaries in these regards."

Showing up angry

At the Nov. 12 meeting, Anderson mentioned discussing the complaint as a board and deciding to conduct their own formal review of Bayer's performance in-house, rather than using a third-party service as suggested by Robinson.

Robinson said she had contacted the Oregon Department of Education, which was her initial source for teacher turnover rates, about her disappointment in the results of this complaint process. She declined to disclose if she had any plans for further action against the district.

"My reaction to their response can just be described at surprise. I felt my complaint went unheard," Robinson said. "They voted against having a third-party review for our superintendent, which to me makes little sense. Their communication through the whole process was minimum at best. I showed up to the Nov. 12 meeting angry because they had completely ignored me. No communication about how things were going to be addressed was really frustrating."


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