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Smith to retire early from PPS after lead report release

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith announced her decision to retire immediately with the simultaneous release of a report detailing widespread problems in the district's approach to lead in its drinking water. Superintendent Carole Smith is leaving Portland Public Schools in the wake of a law firm's report into the procedural failures that allowed school drinking water sources to contain elevated levels of lead, the district announced Monday.

Smith's contract requires her to give 90 days notice, but she says she will use 90 days of accrued paid time off to effectively leave immediately.

The report, the result of an investigation during the past month by the law firm Stoll Berne, found systemic failure in the district's approach to drinking water quality and remediation. The report pointed out that Smith and Chief Operating Officer Tony Magliano both expected to be notified of any issues arising from infrequent lead testing, but "there was no system in place for internal communications or reporting of testing information."

It is unclear if Magliano and Andy Fridley, who was in charge of the lead testing program as Environmental Health and Safety manager, are both still on leave.

The report also found that the district's database of affected fixtures and fixes was inaccurate and incomplete.

"Within the PPS administration hierarchy, there has been no reporting mechanism or oversight up the chain of command, and no top-down direction provided, regarding lead in water issues," according to the report. "When lead in water issues have arisen, PPS has not had any established systems in place to communicate with parents, the public or the media regarding those issues."

Here is Carole Smith's statement posted Monday, July 18, on the PPS website:

Several weeks ago I affirmed for the board my intent to retire, and my willingness to honor the board’s request to work through the end of my contract in June, 2017 to allow the board to conduct a superintendent search, support a smooth leadership transition, and continue our work on immediate health and safety issues.

Having seen the district through the conclusion of the Stoll Berne investigation report and providing the board with a management response, I have reached the decision that I need to move up the date of my departure.

Having seen the district through the conclusion of the Stoll Berne investigation report and providing the board with a management response, I have reached the decision that I need to move up the date of my departure.

In order to accomplish the significant work that lies ahead, I believe it is critical for the board to figure out how to work together with each other as a governing board and in partnership with the superintendent. It is with this understanding and significant concern that I have decided to retire from Portland Public Schools now. Please consider this letter my 90-day notice per my employment contract. I have extensive accumulated leave that I intend to use during that time. I encourage the board to identify an interim superintendent as soon as possible.

The investigation report regarding elevated levels of lead in drinking water at two of our schools has been completed. The report showed “no indication that anyone intended harm or to neglect his or her job duties,” and highlighted funding, prioritization and systems issues. I have provided the board with a memo of recommendations to address the health and safety of our schools, as well as systems and operational concerns we have identified over the last few weeks that align with many of the issues outlined in the report.

I have loved being your superintendent over the past 9 years. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve this community.

To our students: Thank you for welcoming me into your classrooms and your lives. I have loved witnessing and celebrating your many talents and successes with you, and working to remove the barriers that stand in the way of you reaching your full potential.

To all the students who served on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee (SuperSAC) over my time as Superintendent: Thank you for dedicating yourselves as student leaders to making sure that student perspectives are part of key district decision making. It was a joy to learn from you and spend time with you.

To our amazing teaching, administrative and support staff: Thank you for dedicating your professional careers to serving the young people of Portland. I have witnessed your incredible talents and your loyalty to and pride in Portland Public Schools and the students and families we serve. Thank you. It has been an honor to serve alongside of you.

To the many community organizations, businesses and individuals who work in partnership with our district and our schools: Thank you for working with us to expand the services and opportunities that are available to our students and families.

Finally, I want to thank the seventeen board members I have worked with over my time as superintendent. You volunteered countless hours to listening, working to understand complex issues, representing diverse points of view, and looking for solutions. Each of you brought new perspectives and talents to the role, new areas you wanted to focus on improving. Together we established priorities to hold this district and services to our students steady through volatile financial conditions. We not only held steady but made unprecedented progress during this time. I am proud of the work we have done together. Thank you.

Portland is fortunate to have a community that believes in and supports our schools. Everyone is a constituent of our public schools, as a student, parent or family member, business or tax payer – everyone cares about what happens with our schools. Our children and our schools are the future and the heart of our community. Thank you all for caring deeply and showing up for our students in all the ways that you do.

Portland is an incredible city. Thank you for your partnership and support. I have loved working with and on behalf of all of you.