Clatskanie Elementary School

Clatskanie Elementary School.

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A swell of community support for the principal of Clatskanie Elementary School (CES) has led to a recall effort against three Clatskanie School Board directors. The three board directors named in recall petitions recently voted against renewing the employment contract of CES Principal Brad Thorud.

Clatskanie School Board Chair Walt Lovegren and Directors Judy Skirvin and Monty Akin would be up for a recall vote if enough signatures were gathered against each. Don Clack, Columbia County Elections Department, calculated that 288 signatures would be required to set each of the three recalls in motion.

On March 9, the recall’s chief petitioner, Katherine Willis, submitted initial petition documents to the county and the state. On March 12, Clack said his department had the “master sheets” for signature gatherers and he was considering their approval. There would be a 90-day deadline for gathering signatures once the county clears the petitions.

If the required number of petition signatures is reached, a recall vote is approved for a ballot and the school board director in question would be given five days to respond to the allegations against them. A vote would be held within 35 days of county elections officials receiving a director’s response. Resignation prior to a vote would also be an option for the board directors.

The petition recall 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 to the board against renewing 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.”

During a Feb. 26 school board meeting, Hartley recommended against keeping Thorud on staff because of what he said was Thorud’s inability to work within the administrative team. Hartley also alleged that Thorud had made a threat to McNeil, Clatskanie Middle/High School principal, which could result in litigation.

Thorud responded to allegations against him with a series of highly scored performance evaluation reports and he denied making any threat. Clatskanie School Board ultimately voted 3-2 against Thorud’s employment contract renewal.

Willis said she never expected she would be involved in a recall election. She came from another small community and her husband’s family has a longtime connection to the area. They have a daughter, Lacey, in the third grade at CES, and another daughter who will enter the school district in a few years.

A nurse by trade, she volunteered to start the recall process on behalf of a larger group in the community. “The students and the community needed a voice,” Willis said. “I do not feel at this time that members of the school board are representing their best interests.”

Watching the Feb. 26 school board meeting live on social media, Willis said at the time she did not fully realize the implications of what she saw unfold. “In the last two weeks, I’ve never been more disappointed in this community, and then more proud of what came out of that,” she said.

“This community is built on generations, and you have to invest in that at the ground level,” Willis said. “That starts at our school district and this town recognizes it.”

Willis said she was not focused on concerns regarding any legal fallout that could potentially arise from keeping Thorud on staff. She said a separate panel of citizens is looking closely at the legal aspects of the issue while her group works towards the recall.

Willis said signature gatherers for the school board recall planned to be in front of Hi-School Pharmacy in Clatskanie beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13.

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