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Recall effort targets four on Medford School Board

An effort is afoot to recall four Medford School Board members as a teachers' strike continues for its sixth day, but union representatives say they are not involved.

Chief petitioner Curtis Blake Weller of Medford has filed initial paperwork to attempt to recall board members Sally Killen, Jeff Thomas, Marlene Yesquen and Kim Wallan, Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker confirmed Monday.

Petitioners cannot start gathering signatures until the paperwork has been reviewed by county attorneys and approved by her office, which could happen as early as Friday, she said.

How many people are behind Weller's effort is unclear. Representatives of the Medford Education Association, the teachers union that has been on strike since Feb. 6, said they did not know Weller and were taking a neutral stand.

"The teachers' union has nothing to do with this recall," said MEA Vice President Dan Jones. "We are not involved in this at all."

He said union organizers probably will tell their members that they had heard about the recall but would have no recommendation on whether members should support it.

Calls to Weller's home phone were not returned by Monday evening.

The petition lists reasons for recall as failing to comply with the board's own mission statement and goals; conducting executive sessions rather than open public meetings; failing to honor legal agreements; imposing a contract without teachers' ratification; making misleading statements regarding contract negotiations; and ignoring public input.

School Board members reached Monday said they were saddened to hear of the recall effort against them but were ready to heed the will of voters if it came to that.

"Obviously, I ran for the School Board to bring more resources to kids and make kids more successful," board Chairman Jeff Thomas said. "I'm saddened by the fact that we are in a strike situation right now, and we're working as hard as we can to find a resolution. But I also understand that if the community thinks I'm not doing a good job, they certainly have a right to go out and have an up-and-down vote. That's the way it works. Is it the best use of our time? Probably not. It's just going to divide the community more."

"I will abide by the will of the voters," Wallan said. "I was elected to a volunteer position to represent the patrons and students of our district to the best of my ability, and I intend to continue to do that until I am no longer in office."

In a statement released late Monday, the MEA said it was "not surprised" at the recall effort, as board members had canceled meetings and have been "changing personal emails and refusing to answer their phone."

"We imagine people are frustrated because they are publicly elected officials that are supposed to be responsive to their community," the statement reads.

The board declared a state of emergency Jan. 29 and is in "perpetual executive session" so its members can discuss labor negotiations, Wallan said.

The Medford School District announced Monday morning that it had canceled the board meeting scheduled later that day.

"We had no business to take care of until schools are back up and the strike is over," Wallan said.

Elections Program Manager Donna Connor said the recall petitioners must gather 4,521 valid signatures on each individual board member to qualify for the ballot. The 90-day countdown began Monday.

Walker said she recommends that petitioners on any topic gather 25 to 30 percent more signatures to ensure their recall petitions qualify.

Petitioners must also register a political action committee with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office. A spokeswoman there said Monday afternoon that nothing had been filed yet in regard to a Medford School Board recall.

Both Walker and Connor were on their way to Bend for a midwinter county clerks conference and could not say how much a recall election would cost, but they said the cost would have to be paid by the Medford School District.

The clerk's office has 10 days to verify signatures once they are turned in; if the recall qualifies for the ballot, School Board members have five days to resign or to provide a statement of justification of why they should continue serving. An election would be held within 35 days after that.

Board members are elected to four-year terms. Wallan's, Killen's and Yesquen's terms end in 2015.

"The next school year is my last year on the School Board," said Killen. "My husband is thrilled to know I might actually be retired."

Reach City Editor Cathy Noah at 541-776-4473 or by email at cnoah@mailtribune.com. Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4464 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com.

A picketer's sign calls for the recall of school board members as she faces a bus of replacement teachers near Central Medford High School Monday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell