With bond proposal on the horizon, Corbett residents want voices heard, plan alternate forum

A community meeting about Corbett schools was so important to Marnie Freeman and her family that they scheduled her daughter’s birthday party for a week later.

But Corbett School Board Chairman Charlie O’Neil called off the Jan. 11 forum, saying it would violate public meeting law and that the school board would prefer a meeting in early March.

At a special board meeting Wednesday, the Corbett School Board heard from disappointed residents such as Freeman.

Pat Lucas, a longtime community member and mother of fallen Navy SEAL Jeffrey Lucas, went so far as to say “the school board seems to have become a dictatorship.”

In particular, residents expressed concern about the failed Nov. 5, 2013, bond measure that the school board is now trying to reassess for a future election.

“When you have a town that spoke so clearly against the bond, it’s a good idea to hear the people before you make your (next) decision,” Freeman said. “I feel frustrated — like we have a board that’s not willing to listen to the people.”

O’Neil said that he and the board are open to a meeting; however, he preferred the meeting take on a different format, that the meeting be held on school grounds, that the board secretary takes notes, that it meet all public meeting law requirements and that it be delayed until early March.

“I would rather have a give and take — to converse back and forth,” O’Neil said. “I think it would be more constructive. It would be better to have this meeting once other issues are addressed by the board that tie it into the bond election.”

But residents said their main concern was having more input in the next proposed bond, and they hoped it could be done before the board voted on anything bond-related in the next two months.

At the Dec. 18 school board meeting, Northeast Multnomah County Community Association invited the board to attend an open forum at the Corbett Grange in January.

The meeting was to be moderated and facilitated for the board, with attendees submitting written questions about Corbett schools.

The moderator — Jeremy Shepherd, a financial adviser with Edward Jones of Troutdale who has a law background — would read them, and board members would have several minutes to respond.

The meeting also would be recorded so that minutes would be available for the board and the association.

Gary Purvine, a member of the association and husband of board member Victoria Purvine, said he was dumbfounded O’Neil objected to the meeting format.

“It’s the same format we used for campaigning during the election and it worked fine,” Purvine said. “We want it to be a productive meeting where the audience follows rules.”

Purvine also dispelled the myth the meeting would only be open to Corbett families — he said school families from outside areas also would be welcome, too.

He said that four of the school board members had been able to attend the meeting Jan. 11 but the three others had not responded.

In a letter sent out to school board members and community groups, Purvine wrote that each member would answer questions without input from other members of the board, and no one would be allowed to correct or add to statements.

Each board member would answer questions based on his or her understanding of issues or beliefs.

Then, O’Neil told NEMCCA he thought the meeting would be a violation, or potential violation, of public meeting laws.

Violation concerns included the chairman needing to call a special board meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the event and identifying the purpose of the meeting, no discussion or deliberations between the board members if four or more attended, an ADA-accessible meeting space and minutes or notes taken.

Wednesday, he said the board could hold a forum in March with NEMCCA if all the concerns were addressed.

O’Neil expressed particular concern about the Grange as a venue because of its size and ADA accessibility. But Brad McCarty of the Grange said it is wheelchair accessible with a ramp Eagle Scouts had helped to install, and the space holds 200 people.

“If for some reason we couldn’t get people in (the building), I would carry them in myself,” McCarty said.

With the Jan. 11 meeting canceled, but a huge community desire for a schools forum, Freeman took things into her own hands.

She proposed a forum she would organize Saturday, Jan. 25, with a time and location to be determined. She asked school board members to attend, if not as school board members, than as community members.

“Would you please come as a community member and listen to what our community has to say?” Freeman said. “I feel that unless we listen, we are going to end up with the same results we had the first time.”

The next Corbett School Board meeting is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, in the Multipurpose Room of Corbett schools. Board members are expected to continue conversations about reassessing a school bond.

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