The never-ending soap opera that is the Portland Public Schools took a dramatic turn last Wednesday when a group representing school principals called for the resignation of school board member Paul Anthony.
The unusual move came after school administrators released months of Anthony's board-related emails and text messages in which he belittled and insulted Interim Superintendent Bob McKean, school principals and fellow board members, often using crude and demeaning language.
The documents showed that on one occasion he threatened board Chairman Tom Koehler with some unspecified but "highly embarrassing" retaliation after he felt Koehler allowed PPS administrators to "bully" him by asking him to attend a meeting to discuss his critical public statements about PPS employees.
That in-your-face attitude has made the 49-year-old father of three a favorite among journalists frustrated by the district's secrecy, and a champion to many parents and school activists who argue the majority on the seven-member board is too accommodating to administrators who failed students in a variety of ways.
By the end of the week, a pair of Anthony's colleagues on the board, Amy Kohnstamm and Pam Knowles, joined the call for his resignation, while only one, Steve Buel, had publicly voiced support.
The dust-up comes at an awkward time, as Buel, Knowles and Koehler are finishing up their terms and three new board members, who will have to work with Anthony should he remain, will be sworn in next month.
One of them, Julia Brim-Edwards, released a statement Friday saying she condemned Anthony's "unprofessional, inappropriate and disrespectful" name-calling, but she believed he could become an effective board member.
Brim-Edwards has some experience with this. She served on the board previously, taking office just as fellow board member Derry Jackson was facing a possible recall after making anti-Semitic remarks.
Jackson apologized and was able to serve out the remainder of his term. Anthony doesn't seem ready to make any apologies.
In an interview with Portland Tribune reporter Beth Slovic last week, Anthony was defiant, saying he considered the correspondence private and stood by the sentiment behind it. What's more, he's now fighting efforts by the principals to release correspondence he conducted through social media.
Anthony, an advocate for greater transparency on the board, was foolish to think his board-related communications would be private and is wrong to delay the release of district-related correspondence conducted through social media.
We're not yet ready to join the call for Anthony's resignation, but we're close.
To be sure, the comments he made about his colleagues were ill-advised and unprofessional. But that's not what worries us most.
The 2,000-plus pages of documents released so far reveal a clear pattern of Anthony meddling in affairs best left to principals and other school administrators. His involvement seems to go beyond that of an activist board member and into the realm of bullying. Teachers and administrators don't need to like board members, but they shouldn't fear them. Colleagues on a board don't need to be buddies, but they shouldn't be subjected to sexist slurs, even in private.
We agree with Brim-Edwards that it's possible for Anthony to a productive member of the board. First, he needs to voluntarily turn over all communication related to his work as a board member, regardless of the delivery system he used.
And then he needs to clear the air with his colleagues. He'll get that chance later this week during a two-day retreat with incoming board members.
This is a crucial time for Portland Public Schools. It just passed the largest bond in its history but has yet to find a permanent superintendent to replace McKean, who is stepping down at the end of this month.
Anthony has played an important role on the board, acting as the voice for some of the most impassioned parent activists who have felt shut out of their kids' education. We'd like to see him keep up that work, but only if he can show he's committed to transparency and working with his fellow board members toward common goals.