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3 School Board members back superintendent

Three members of the Eagle Point School Board are firing back against the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission for charging Superintendent Cynda Rickert with professional misconduct last month.

In a letter to Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, three of the board's five members accuse the TSPC of violating state laws and responding to Rickert's requests for transparency in her case with a bureaucratic stone wall.

They also said Rickert's actions that are in question were approved by the School Board and added that the TSPC has no authority over school board decisions.

"The commission's inappropriate action has damaged the reputation of our district and a distinguished superintendent," board members Scott Grissom, Mary Ann Olsen and Ted Dole wrote in the letter.

The remaining board members, Mark Bateman and Jim Mannenbach, lodged the complaint with the TSPC that led to the misconduct charge, district administration said.

Rickert learned in October that the TSPC was considering charging her with misconduct for allegedly using unlicensed counselors to perform counselor duties and for neglecting to purchase new school buses.

Although she attempted to attend the TSPC meeting and defend herself against the accusations, Rickert was barred from the executive session meeting and has yet to learn exactly why she was charged with misconduct.

The commission this week mailed a notice describing the charges to Rickert, giving her three weeks to decide whether she wants to contest the charges with an administrative hearing, according to Melody Hansen, director of professional practices with the TSPC.

Hansen acknowledged that Rickert had shown up in Salem and tried to attend the commission's November meeting and was denied entrance.

"It's in our statutes that it's closed. It's nonpublic," said Hansen, who believes board members are incorrect in stating that the TSPC violated the law by charging her during an executive session.

Hansen said that the TSPC statutes state that meetings are held in executive session and open only to commission members and the media, who do not report on executive session meetings.

The letter from Grissom, Olsen and Dole asked legislators to intervene and stop the TSPC from prolonging the case against Rickert.

"The commission has refused, despite repeated requests from Superintendent Rickert, to make its deliberations about the issue open to the public," said the letter, which also was sent to members of the TSPC, and the commission's executive director, Victoria Chamberlain.

Board members also said the charges against Rickert don't fall under the scope of the TSPC's responsibilities.

The board members said that decisions on who would perform counselor duties and whether to purchase buses were budget choices voted on by the School Board.

The TSPC has no role in charging a superintendent with misconduct for decisions made by a school board, the letter said.

The board members said that the role of the TSPC is to discipline educators who have violated a law or acted unethically.

"It appears that the commission has acted outside their scope of legal authority," said the letter.

Hansen said that because the charge against Rickert is pending and the details are not yet public, she couldn't comment on how the charges fit within the role of the TSPC.

The three legislators who were recipients of the board's letter have been members of education committees. Hass was chairman of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee in the 2012 session and Huffman and Gelser were both members of the House Education Committee, with Gelser serving as co-chairwoman of the committee.

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