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Divided district: A rift between principals, central office

Estacada School District tight-lipped over "no confidence" letter


Behind the scenes, friction has been mounting between the Estacada school administrators and the school district’s central office.

A public glimpse of the rift arose during a heated special school board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19, in which the administrators called on the board to designate a district leader for the few remaining months until a new superintendent is hired.

In November, the board announced that long-time Superintendent Howard Fetz would take a step back and assume a “consulting role” as he neared retirement and that the district’s principals and Shannon Powell, director of the district’s special services programs, would take on extra duties until a new superintendent was hired for the 2014-15 school year.

During the Feb. 19 board meeting, the administrators made clear that in the absence of an acting superintendent, they felt the current system wasn’t working.

“We need some direction, we need some leadership,” Estacada High School Principal Scott Sullivan told the school board.

“The chain of command was unclear. Clarifying that will be good for everybody,” Dan Draper, principal of Eagle Creek Elementary, said later.

The next day, the administrators took the message a step further.

The school board received a letter of no confidence in Powell signed by Sullivan, Draper, Estacada High School Vice Principal Ryan Carpenter, Estacada Junior High School Principal Tina Rhue and Clackamas River Elementary Principal Seth Johnson.

The letter, dated Feb. 20, 2014, reads:

“Dear Estacada School District Board Members:

As a collective group of administrators, we wish to convey that we DO NOT, as a group or individually, endorse Shannon Powell as an interim or future superintendent.

Please feel free to contact us regarding our concerns.

Thank you for seriously considering our recommendation and your continued support in our leadership.

We are truly invested in hiring the best candidate for our students, staff and community.

Sincerely,

The Estacada School District Administrative Team”

The School Board, upon the request of The Estacada News, supplied a copy of the letter, which was accompanied by this statement: “The District is required to provide copies of public records pursuant to ORS 192.400 et. seq. This letter was sent to the Board, unsolicited and provision of this in response to a public records request is not an endorsement of any personal statement made by the authors of the letter.”

“I’m sure they meant it to be kept in strict confidentiality,” School Board Chairman Rick Mudrow said in regard to the administrators.

During the Feb. 19 board meeting, two apparent frontrunners for the acting superintendent role were discussed: Powell and Sullivan.

Ultimately, the board decided to restore current Superintendent Howard Fetz to a more active role until a new superintendent is hired.

“The redefined roles essentially take us back to where we were earlier in the year,” Fetz said.

When asked whether the school board of directors had been split in opinion over Powell and Sullivan, Mudrow replied that there had been strong feelings on both sides.

Mudrow said that the board recognized that the administrators were asking for someone to make day-to-day decisions on educational matters and the board felt that Fetz could fulfill that role, especially since the district will continue to pay him until his contract expires June 30.

School Board member Ralph Branson said that he respects the administrators but he thought they could have handled the matter differently.

“I feel it’s unfortunate because it was presented to him on the day Shannon (Powell) was preparing for his mother’s funeral and that was not good,” Branson said.

Branson said he had been unaware of any tension between the administrators and the central office until about two weeks before the board received the letter.

When asked if he had backed Powell or Sullivan, Branson said he was pleased with both of them.

As for the board’s decision, Branson said he thought Fetz’s return would lend stability to the district.

Branson said that from his years of experience in school districts, he has seen things like this happen now and then but they tend to fade fairly quickly.

“I’m concerned about it happening but I’m not concerned about it happening in the long range,” he said.

Other board members were contacted but they declined to comment or did not return calls.

The principals declined to comment or did not return calls for this article.

Powell did not return calls for comment by press time.