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Oregon bill would offer protections to superintendents

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A bill under consideration in the Oregon Senate in the wake of three high-profile dismissals would offer school superintendents some protections from no-cause terminations in the future.

Senate Bill 1521 would require school boards to provide 12 months of notice before the termination of a superintendent with no cause, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Friday. They could still fire superintendents with cause.

The bill text also states that a district cannot direct a superintendent to ignore or violate state or federal law or take action against a superintendent who follows state or federal law.

The bill comes after three controversial superintendent firings in Oregon last year in the cities of Albany, Adrian and Newberg.

In testimony before the Senate Education Committee, Coquille Superintendent Tim Sweeney referenced what he called “skyrocketing” levels of superintendent turnover in the state.

“For the current school year, there were 43 superintendent vacancies. And so far, there are already 35 vacancies — with more expected — heading into the 2022-23 school year," he said. "This is out of a total of 216 positions in Oregon.”

Opponents of the bill, including the superintendent of a district that is flouting a K-12 mask mandate in its schools, say it would take away local control from the community members who know their districts the best.

The bill "is a very controversial infringement of school board authority and autonomy,” Marc Thielman, superintendent of the Alsea School District, said at public hearing Thursday. Thielman is running for governor and has crossed swords more than once with the state health authorities over mask mandates in his schools.

Other than Thielman, superintendents who submitted testimony have been overwhelmingly supportive of the legislation.

One of the recently dismissed superintendents, former Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Melissa Goff, shared written testimony in support of the bill. Goff shared how newly elected school board members changed the board’s majority and dismissed her a few months after renewing her contract.

“The chaos that ensued disrupted the beginning of the school year for staff and students, caused anxiety and concern for many of our families, particularly families of color with whom I had worked closely, and cost Greater Albany Public Schools the equivalent of at least four full-time teaching positions,” Goff wrote.

“We are seeing even more dramatic negative impact in Newberg schools right now, thus emphasizing the need for Senate Bill 1521.”

In Newberg, several administrators have left the district in the wake of Superintendent Joe Morelock’s firing in November.

Two school board members who voted to fire Morelock appear to have recently survived a recall election, although final results will not be certified for several more weeks.