Portland school board member who resigned said closed meeting was ‘disturbing at best’

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A Portland school board member who unexpectedly resigned on Tuesday said the timing of his decision was not meant to coincide with the announced departure of another board member and concerns about an executive session in August were something he had struggled with for some time.

“I am confident that I could have been more productive during my short time on the Board and I can take it on and apologize to the residents of District 5,” Jeff Irish said Wednesday. “However, this August 17 meeting was disturbing at best. As for the fact that this is an anomaly, that is to be hoped. But given the players in the room, I suspect it wasn’t.

Irish tendered her resignation in a letter to the board on Tuesday, hours after fellow board member Sarah Thompson announced she was ending her re-election campaign due to a divisive atmosphere at the within the board of directors.

Irish said he made his decision “some time ago” and was not aware of Thompson’s announcement until he and other board members in be informed Tuesday morning. He said he shares some of Thompson’s concerns about how diverse opinions are not being well received on the board, but also said he could have done more to communicate with other members of the board. board of directors.

“I share his sentiment in a way,” Irish said. “I don’t know what kind of communication board members have with other board members. Mine is relatively limited. I don’t want to blame them. I could certainly reach out. It’s a two-way street.

Most school board members did not respond to phone messages and emails Wednesday asking for their reaction to the two departures. Meanwhile, the situation on the board left teachers frustrated.

“This whole situation is really frustrating,” Carrie Foster, president of the Portland Education Association, said in an email. “We’re still going through a pandemic and a staff shortage on top of that. There is so much work to be done, and instead of focusing on how we can work with the board to make this sustainable and successful, we are losing them too, and now there are three uncontested elections for three open seats. .

“It’s not ideal for democracy, no matter who the candidates are. We shouldn’t read inflammatory details about employment decisions that should have gone through a confidential process. It doesn’t help educators or students. I hate that it distracts attention from the real work that our educators – for which so many people in this district at all levels – are killing themselves to do. “

LIKELY HOLIDAY UNTIL JUNE

The post left vacant on the board by Irish’s resignation will likely be filled in the state and municipal elections in June 2022, unless the city council calls a special election earlier, the spokesperson said of the city, Jessica Grondin.

Irish, who had been less than a year into his first term on the board, said his main reason for resigning was an August 17 executive session in which he said his colleague Roberto Rodriguez urged the superintendent to reconsider an administrative appointment for a school employee. based on an email the employee sent to city council regarding progressive members of the city charter commission.

In the email, the employee said she was embarrassed by the actions of progressive leaders on social media.

“These newly elected people have to do better,” the employee said. “No one wants to hear my next words, but we all know that if the people saying these things were NOT people of color they would be finished, gone and trashed. Please hold ALL people accountable for their words, not just those with whom we agree.

Irish said he raised his concerns during the executive session and asked Botana if the appointment was based on merit and performance, which the superintendent said. “Several board members have not been able to branch off the personal life of the appointee with his historically professional career,” he said.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

“I would prefer that PPS students have an educational environment where educators and administrators with diverse mindsets are free to express them without fear of being professionally retained,” Irish added. “The individual thoughts of students and teachers make better students and teachers. This meeting made it clear to me that some members of the board thought otherwise. “

The Press Herald asked the city for a copy of the email and any records of councilors who forwarded the email. The city provided the email on Wednesday evening but withheld the author’s name, saying it was not public information under state law. However, the newspaper obtained an unredacted copy from columnist Bill Nemitz, which was copied from the original email to the board from Robyn Bailey, principal of Lincoln Middle School.

Bailey declined to discuss the email when contacted about it by phone on Wednesday.

City records showed it was Councilor April Fournier who provided the email to Rodriguez in June. Fournier did not respond to a phone message or email on Wednesday.

“I think it’s worth taking into consideration and asking why a city councilor would actively engage a board member in this way,” Irish said. “It’s pretty scary and that’s regardless of the content of the email. This process itself is questionable.

Other school board members offered few answers to Irish and Thompson’s unexpected decisions on Wednesday.

School board president Emily Figdor said on Tuesday she was surprised to hear the two departures and welcomed the varying opinions on the board.

“Some people don’t like change, but we have huge inequalities in our city, and we are finally tackling them head-on,” Figdor said in an email Wednesday. “That kind of reaction always happens, even if it’s disappointing. But the rest of the school board is more aligned than ever with our core work – eliminating racism in our schools and promoting fairness. And we’re going to stay focused.

School board members Adam Burk, Aura Russell-Bedder, Yusuf Yusuf, Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez did not respond to phone messages or emails on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Thompson said the board isn’t working as collaboratively as it used to be, and board members can’t respectfully disagree.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

Board member Micky Bondo said it was natural for board members to not always agree on issues and that she hasn’t noticed any major changes in dynamics recently. .

“I didn’t see much of that,” Bondo said. “She’s the only one who knows exactly what she’s talking about. To me, relationships matter so much. I’m used to sitting down and talking and trying to find common ground.

She said she couldn’t say much about Irish’s decision as the reason for her resignation involved disclosure of information discussed in an executive session, making it confidential under the law. from Maine. “I respect his opinion,” Bondo said. “That’s all I can say.”

Thompson said Wednesday afternoon that she had not spoken with Irish since his resignation, but they texted Tuesday evening.

“He said he didn’t want to take anything away from my resignation at the same time,” she said. “I said I didn’t feel that way at all, but I felt bad that he needed to do this. I think he did what he thought was right for him.

Thompson said she couldn’t comment on concerns raised by the Irish about the August 17 executive session, but in general the board and district encouraged staff to speak up.

“If they say what they think and we don’t agree with that, that’s okay,” Thompson said. “It’s part of the process and part of the problem. We can’t say we want to hear voices that agree with us, but we don’t want to hear voices that disagree with us. I think maybe that’s the point Jeff was trying to make.


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