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School foundation Director Van Brunt abruptly resigns

Decision comes after reports of investigation into financial matters
by: L.E. BASKOW, Connie Van Brunt left her job as executive director of the Portland Schools Foundation after about seven months in the position.

Less than seven months into the job, Portland Schools Foundation Executive Director Connie Van Brunt has resigned from her post.

The resignation, effective immediately, comes days after Willamette Week wrote about a foundation investigation into whether Van Brunt improperly spent foundation funds for her rent, to pay her husband for some of his expenses at a convention in Las Vegas and to pay her husband to write some grants for the foundation.

According to a Tuesday statement by foundation President and Board Chairman Doug Nichols: '...Various initiatives and responsibilities associated with the role of executive director have emerged which do not reflect Ms. Van Brunt's areas of focus. Therefore, Ms. Van Brunt and the Portland Schools Foundation have mutually agreed to part company. There are no allegations of wrongdoing by either party. There is no pending financial investigation.'

In her absence, Nichols and board Vice Chairwoman Karen Whitman are working with senior staff to lead the foundation.

An awkward time

Van Brunt was recruited through a lengthy national search by the foundation's board of directors after Cynthia Guyer, the previous director and co-founder, retired after a decade in the position.

Van Brunt formerly served as chief education officer at the Chicago Charter School Foundation, where she was responsible for academic strategies, assessment and partnerships for 7,000 low-income students.

After taking the helm of the Portland foundation, she began to reform its Equity Fund, which critics said didn't help the neediest schools that couldn't afford grant-writing resources. Van Brunt had also started working closely with Jefferson High School Principal Cynthia Harris to fund community outreach efforts and other improvements to the school.

The resignation comes at an awkward time. The foundation's 13th annual fundraising auction, this year called the 'Rip City Roast,' is set for Feb. 27 at the Rose Garden Arena.

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Here is the text of Doug Nichols' statement:

When the Portland Schools Foundation hired Connie Van Brunt as Executive Director, it was with the understanding that she was a highly skilled educational reform advocate and practitioner with a proven track record of closing the achievement gap. We continue to believe that today. In Portland, Ms. Van Brunt launched an agenda of community engagement work, education reform work and evaluative outcome analysis of significant caliber, paralleling the work she has effectively pursued throughout her 30-year professional career.

However, various initiatives and responsibilities associated with the role of executive director have emerged which do not reflect Ms. Van Brunt's areas of focus. Therefore, Ms. Van Brunt and the Portland Schools Foundation have mutually agreed to part company. There are no allegations of wrongdoing by either party. There is no pending financial investigation.

Ms. Van Brunt will continue her career as a leader and advocate for educational reform, especially among underserved, under-represented children and youth. Additionally, education reform will continue to be a core value and focus of the Portland Schools Foundation.

From the beginning, the mission of the Portland Schools Foundation has been to ensure a first-rate public education for every child in Portland.

We take that mission and our responsibility for financial stewardship very seriously.

We appreciate the community's support for our work and for Portland's children.