Elections officials have released an informative statement to announce the date for a recall election against two Clatskanie School Board directors. The recall named Director Chair Monty Akin and Director Judy Skirvin.
The recall effort also initially targeted form Director Chair Walt Lovegren, who resigned his position rather than stand for an election. His resignation was announced to a packed audience at the March 19 Clatskanie School Board meeting.
Recall petition statements alleged that Lovegren, Skirvin and Akin were unable to carry out their school board duties faithfully and impartially. The three were accused of failing to consider facts presented in opposition to Clatskanie School District Superintendent Lloyd Hartley’s recent recommendation against renewing Clatskanie Elementary School Principal Brad Thorud’s contract.
The statements claimed that each of the three were unable or unwilling to represent their constituents’ voices and therefore had lost the confidence and respect of the community.
The recall petition statement against Skirvin also alleged that her “familial ties with district employees and her connection to Principal Amy McNeil influenced her position regarding the non-renewal of Principal Brad Thorud.”
A response statement from Akin can be found on the Columbia County Elections Department website. Akin wrote in his statement that in every controversy there are two sides to the story.
“There are two groups in town, one aggress with the board and one doesn’t,” Akin wrote. His statement said that the majority of the school board felt that Hartley had legitimate concerns about Mr. Thorud’s ability to work collaboratively with other administrative staff.
“This is not a question about whether Mr. Thorud is successful at working with the students in his building, but rather a question about whether he is willing to work with his superintendent and other staff in a cohesive and collaborative way,” Akin wrote. “I believe it’s imperative that the administrative staff work together to provide the best possible education for all students of the District.”
Akin’s statement said there must be good “hand-off” between the elementary and middle/high school to ensure the students are on track for college or careers. Akin stood by his decision to support Hartley. “He is very capable to get the District back on solid ground once we get this controversy behind us,” Akin wrote.
“America is a place where citizens have the right to challenge,” Akin wrote. “I wish to let democracy work and am perfectly willing to honor the feeling of the majority in this recall petition.”
Skirvin wrote in her response statement that the majority of the school board members voted to not renew Thorud not because of questioning his ability to work with children, but because of concerns about his ability to work collaboratively as an administrator.
“After extensive research, asking hard questions, two separate school district attorneys recommended non-renewal and stated I had no conflict of interest,” Skirvin wrote. “A responsible superintendent cannot ignore legal advice and set our district up for litigation.”
Her statement noted that an outside consultant informed school board that “focusing on communication, teamwork and trust building would not likely result in restoring the level of trust necessary for effective leadership.”
Skirvin stated that after careful deliberation, listening to all sides, she supported the superintendent’s recommendation, adding that trust and collaboration within the administration, staff and schools has an effect on students.
“Our schools must work together as one for us to provide a challenging, cohesive curriculum K-12, a cohesive discipline policy K-12, and to be financially responsible,” Skirvin wrote.
Elections officials estimated the recall would cost the school district somewhere in the mid-$4,000 range.
At the March 19 Clatskanie School Board meeting, the chief petitioner for the school board recall effort, Katherine Willis, announced that her group had collected around 380 signatures for each of the individual recalls in less than eight hours of petitioning. To initiate a recall vote, just 288 signatures each were needed.
“As board members, you have lost the confidence and respect of the community, who no longer holds faith in your ability or your desire to work to improve the quality of education for all students,” Willis said.
Clatskanie School District issued a statement in February to dispute accusations that conflicts of interest swayed two board members to vote against renewing the elementary school principal’s employment contract.
According to the statement, the school district’s legal counsel reviewed the complaints and found that “the two board members do not have a conflict of interest as defined in Oregon law and board policy, and therefore, did not have the option to recuse themselves from voting on the non-renewal recommendation.”
It was announced at the March 19 meeting that the school board would convene a special session on March 23 to review applicants for the two vacant director slots. Some in the audience argued for immediate appointments, though Skirvin argued for more time in the process.
Late in the afternoon on March 22, Hartley sent out an email that stated the March 23 meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum. A few hours later, an email was sent be Akin, who wrote that he was “having stomach issues and wish to avoid any issues.” Akin said he would be on vacation for the following two weeks and that the meeting to review school board hopefuls was set for April 9.
During a Feb. 26 school board meeting, Hartley recommended against keeping Thorud on staff because of what he said was an inability to work within the administrative team. Hartley alleged that Thorud had made a threat to Clatskanie Middle/High School Principal Amy McNeil that could result in litigation. Thorud denied the allegations against him and cited a history of positive evaluations.
Clatskanie School Board voted 3-2 against the contract renewal. Board directors Akin and Skirvin opposed renewal, and directors Megan Evenson and Valerie Williams were in favor. Lovegren cast the final vote against Thorud.
Thorud was hired as a teacher in August of 2000. He became an administrator in July of 2015. With his non-renewal, Thorud’s contract with the school district expires in June of 2018.
The Clatskanie School District 6J recall election will be held May 1. According to Columbia County Elections Department, approximately 3,600 registered voters in Columbia and Clatsop Counties will receive a ballot with two measures, 5-268R Recall of Clatskanie School District Director (position two) and 5-269R Recall of Clatskanie School District Director (position three).
Ballots will be mailed beginning April. The final day ballots will be mailed is April 26. Residents must be registered to vote by April 10. The county clerk must receive ballots no later than 8 p.m. on May 1 - postmarks do not count. The United States Postal Service has stated that ballots could take up to five-seven days to reach county elections offices once they are put in the mail.
The Public Certification Test of the counting equipment for the Special Election will be held on Tuesday, April 24. The testing will begin at 10 a.m. in the County Elections Department. The public is welcome to attend.
If you cannot return your ballot by mail by the Thursday prior to Election Day, you should plan on returning your ballot to a drop site.
Drop sites for the election will be as follows:
11 Lillich St., Clatskanie
Columbia County Courthouse
230 Strand St., St. Helens
24-Hour Drive-up Drop Box