A surprise motion Monday to fire Superintendent Phil Long ignited a 20-minute debate among Medford School Board members, a call to district lawyers and some angry words.

A surprise motion Monday to fire Superintendent Phil Long ignited a 20-minute debate among Medford School Board members, a call to district lawyers and some angry words.

At the end of an otherwise perfunctory board meeting, member Kim Wallan moved to terminate Long's contract without cause in 90 days.

The motion stunned some board members and prompted questions about who would replace Long, whether the public should have been notified and whether it was valid for the board to vote on the motion.

After calling legal counsel, Chairman Jeff Thomas scheduled an executive session for June 18 in which the board will discuss its options with the district's attorney.

It must conduct all conversations about the superintendent's contract in public, according to state law.

The next scheduled public meeting is July 3, unless a special public meeting is called.

At the July 3 meeting, newly elected board member Larry Nicholson will replace Paulie Brading, who has been critical of student performance under Long's eight-year tenure and of his refusal to cut $300,000 from the support services operating budget.

Monday was to be Brading's last regular board meeting.

On Tuesday, Wallan said she has been vocal about her dissatisfaction with Long's performance since she ran for election in 2011 and she chose Monday night to "trigger the real conversation. I have been wanting change."

When asked whether her motion was timed to get support from Brading before she left the board, she said, "Certainly, of course."

Board member Marlene Yesquen seconded the motion to terminate the contract. After the lengthy board discussion, however, the motion was tabled.

Wallan said she is "tenacious," adding that she will have to wait for a future decision.

"We will take a vote at some point," she said. "I have no idea if it will succeed. I just felt it was time."

Whether to renew Long's contract, which ends June 2014 barring a change, or hire a new superintendent was a controversial topic in the May 21 election in which three school board incumbents were up for re-election. Incumbents Thomas and Tricia Prendergast were re-elected, but Brading was defeated by a former School Board chairman, Larry Nicholson.

On Tuesday, Thomas said that although the motion to terminate was not on the agenda, Long's contract has been a matter of debate among the board for more than two years.

Four members have given Long passing evaluations and three have been critical of his leadership, management and ability to take direction from the board.

"I believe the question isn't necessarily directed at the superintendent, but if we are going to have a change in leadership, how quickly should we do it?" Thomas said. "In 90 days or in a year? It's a fair discussion to have with the board and the community. When you have that discussion in public, it's awkward, but it's the only way to do it."

On Monday night, board member Ron Andersen made it clear he disapproved of the motion and the circumstances surrounding it.

Throughout the discussion, he tried to table the motion and after that failed, he voiced concern that the public was not informed in advance, which he said violated the principles of an open meeting.

On Tuesday, he said, "I don't know what the future for Phil Long is but he's a bright, capable guy and he will land on his feet because he's too talented and valuable to be hurt by this.

"But," Andersen continued, "the sophomoric behavior of some of my colleagues was an embarrassment to me and disrespectful of this community."

When contacted by a reporter on Tuesday, outgoing board member Brading said, "I don't have any comment. Thank you for calling," and then hung up.

When the reporter called right back, Brading said, "Kim is the one who made the motion last night and Marlene seconded and that's all I want to say."

In his office on Tuesday, Long said the motion was "unexpected."

He then added, "The board is the elected body of the community and it conducts the community's business. Other than that, I have no comment."

Before the discussion about Long's contract, the board adopted the 2013-14 school year's $113 million general budget, maintaining all current services and adding academic intervention support for K-12 students and funds for security-related upgrades and other projects at schools.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.