Rickert vows defense vs. misconduct allegations

Superintendent charged with misconduct

Eagle Point School District Superintendent Cynda Rickert said she will vigorously defend herself against a Teacher Standards and Practices Commission charge of misconduct she received last month.

Rickert said she is being accused of avoiding buying school buses to deplete a bus replacement fund and of allowing the district to provide student counseling services from unlicensed counselors.

The charges are in response to a January 2011 complaint to the TSPC, said Melody Hansen, TSPC director of professional practices.

"I intend to provide every available avenue to defend myself," Rickert said in a statement responding to the charges.

The complaint was lodged by Eagle Point School Board members Mark Bateman and Jim Mannenbach, according to district human resources director Allen Barber.

"It wasn't a surprise to us," Barber said.

The TSPC charged Rickert with professional misconduct Nov. 2, but Hansen said that until a formal notice of the charge is mailed to Rickert, no public documents exist that describe the nature of the alleged misconduct.

Rickert said she has responded publicly to concerns about district counseling services and the school bus fleet numerous times in the past.

An Oregon State University instructor aware of the complaint against Rickert said he believes she is being charged with misconduct for allowing unlicensed counselors to perform counselor duties.

Gene Eakin, who is also an advocacy chairman for the Oregon School Counselors Association, said he has spoken with people in Eagle Point who are concerned that the district has only two counselors for its more than 4,000 students.

The district eliminated elementary and middle school counselors during budget cuts in the 2009-10 school year.

An Oregon administrative rule that Eakin helped write includes a requirement that schools must "assign guidance and counseling responsibilities to the appropriate personnel" and "provide a comprehensive guidance and counseling program" at every grade level.

Mannenbach lodged a complaint with the Oregon Department of Education about the lack of counselors in October 2010, but by that December the ODE announced that the district was in compliance with state laws.

Mannenbach declined to comment on the charges against Rickert.

Rickert said the district's counseling services have led to an increase in student performance, and the practice of having unlicensed counselors provide academic advising to students is not uncommon.

"All counseling staff are trained and supervised to provide only those services that are appropriate for their job classification," said Rickert. "When a student needs services that require a licensed counselor, the student is referred to one of the center's licensed staff."

Rickert said that responding to concerns about district operations is something all district superintendents must do.

During numerous board meetings last year, Bateman said he had concerns about the district not purchasing new school buses, despite the ODE offering bus reimbursement funding to districts that purchase buses in a consistent manner.

While Bateman has said he believes the district is holding onto bus depreciation money and allowing the bus fleet to grow old, Rickert said that the district currently has no money in its depreciation fund and hasn't purchased new buses in three years in an effort to cut costs across the district.

Bateman believes depleting the alleged bus replacement fund is evidence that the district plans to contract out its transportation services, something many district employees oppose.

Bateman did not immediately return calls Monday.

Rickert said she attempted to attend the TSPC meeting on Nov. 2 but was denied entrance and later learned she was charged during a closed executive session.

Once a notice of the charges is mailed to Rickert, she will have 21 days to decide whether to accept a punishment from the TSPC or pursue a hearing with an administrative judge.

The TSPC could give Rickert a formal reprimand, suspend or revoke her administrative license, put her on probation or a reach a confidential agreement with Rickert and the district.

"I am proud of our district's work to conserve funds," Rickert said. "I intend to provide a vigorous defense of these programs and my work."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.


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