During the final session of their evaluation for Ontario School District Superintendent Nicole Albisu on March 22, the Ontario School District Board of Directors did not come to the consensus agreement they had planned on. Instead, member Blanca Rodriguez diverged from the group over the final written summative evaluation and summary of performance, over issues mentioned there and in an accompanying letter to Albisu, with Rodriguez saying they were opinion and not fact.
Three meetings tied to the evaluation on March 8, 15 and 22 were held publicly at Albisu’s request. During a meeting on March 15 in her rebuttal to the scoring done on March 8, Albisu said she was right to have requested the meetings be public, saying that she had feared retaliation over a discrimination complaint filed against members of the board prior to her evaluation, and that retaliation had played out during the March 8 meeting in comments made while considering her scoring.
As a result of the evaluation being public, the letter that accompanies Albisu’s evaluation in her personnel file is to be released to the public. But first it is getting another revision, which will include the fact that the vote was 4-to-1 on the evaluation and accompanying letter. This written record will show that the board was unable to reach a consensus decision, which is suggested by the Oregon School Boards Association.
Albisu’s requests for examples, clarification go unanswered
Albisu during this final portion of her evaluation was allowed to ask questions. After Chairwoman Renae Corn announced this at the top of the meeting, board member Derrick Draper said, “I thought we were just going to finish as a board.”
To this Corn responded that Albisu had requested the time and it was in the board’s best interest to allow her to ask the questions about her evaluation.
Albisu first asked the board to provide examples of specific times she had not responded well to criticism, and the question came back unanswered. Corn and Lawyer Christine Mosier-Crysler, of Vale, told Albisu that while answers wouldn’t be provided, the superintendent was still welcome to ask and those would become part of her personnel file along with the evaluation.
Albisu continued, saying some of the board’s feedback during the evaluation confused her because of contradictory statements in some of the standards. She told them that they had sidestepped regular feedback during the evaluation period and ignored suggestions by lawyers for mediation “at least four times.” She also sought clarity on statements including that she needed to improve transparency between the board and administration, and further clarification on the statement regarding misinformation given to the media.
At one point she referred back to the artifacts she presented to the board and at this point was interrupted by Draper.
“I think we’ve all heard the artifacts,” he said. “If she has a questions that’s one thing but hashing it all out again is another, in my opinion.”
Corn allowed the superintendent to proceed.
Albisu also asked the board for specifics regarding what “data sources and rationale” they were referring to regarding her ethical decision-making.
Working out a disclosure
After Albisu addressed the board, Mosier-Crysler asked the group if they wanted to have further discussion and the only one interested in not moving immediately forward was Rodriguez.
“I think that we listed opinions and not facts, and each one of us did it individually,” she said. “I was just prepared to go over the letter and I do respect the one voice of the board, but I don’t agree with some things, because I haven’t witnessed that. Maybe others have and maybe they can speak up.”
Rodriguez specifically took issue with statements in the letter that stated Albisu didn’t respond well to criticism, was resistant to seek feedback from the greater community and the “lack of trust” noted over data regarding teacher turnover at the high school.
“I don’t lack trust myself and that data has been provided in my opinion,” Rodriguez said.
Board member Eric Evans pointed out issues with the font being different and not the same size in some areas, with some words unnecessarily highlighted in other areas.
“Just fix that, that’s all I have,” he said.
However, at Mosier-Crysler’s suggestion, the board discussed whether to also add a sentence or two to clarify in the letter that there was a “disagreement amongst board members” over the issues brought up by Rodriguez.
“That defeats the purpose,” Draper said, nothing that they’d never had to include that before.
At this, Mosier-Crysler pointed out they were also doing the evaluation differently than had been done before: in a public setting.
Discussion continued about why not to include it, with board member Geddes saying they had all made concessions in reaching scores on the consensus report, and Evans paralleling the act as voting on a bill in Congress. It is noteworthy, however, that Congressional votes are public record.
Saying she did not want to “hang up this proceeding” any further and that it was ultimately the board’s decision, Mosier-Crysler again advised the board to add the language.
Corn at this point said that while she didn’t always agree with everything going on, “I do believe that if you hire an attorney, it is important you listen to advice. That’s why you hired [them].”
Still Draper tried to move forward several times without the vote record included in the letter, saying multiple times “we need to move forward,” and that the board could discuss the matter “perpetually.”
Corn finally told him that she understood but did not agree.
“I have a lot invested here and I want to make sure, and to truly keep in mind I’m not going to be here and don’t want to leave a mess for someone else to figure out,” she said.
Corn did not re-file for her seat, which is up for vote in May.
Board members finally conceded to adding a statement in the letter along the lines of: “While this letter represents the consensus of the board, it does not reflect on each individual member’s opinion.”
It was agreed that the letter would be revised and the board voted, again 4-1, to have the letter approved with the minor formatting changes and addition of the disclosure statement without having to get together to go over it again.
What’s next, including contract renewal
The deadline for the board to evaluate the superintendent was Feb. 28. This was not met for several reasons, including hiring an attorney for the process and the board “arguing amongst ourselves,” over the evaluation document according to Corn.
The one thing that Rodriguez did agree with board members on in a unanimous vote was meeting with Albisu at regular intervals during the evaluation cycle, which has not been done for the past two years.
It was ultimately decided that the board would do a check-in with Albisu on goals during board meetings in August, October and January, with the evaluation from February to March.
Albisu agreed that she could formally present her goals for the coming year to the board during its April meeting.
The board also decided that they would let the superintendent know whether they would extend her contract by March 15, 2022.
Albisu does have one year left on her contract, which requires the board to give her 12 months notice of non-renewal.