PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith, who previously announced she would step aside at the end of her contract next June, announced Monday she will leave now.
In a letter addressed to “Portland students, parents, teachers, administrators, central office staff, board members, community partners and volunteers, and members of the community,” Smith said she changed her decision after much deliberation.
“… I believe it is critical for the board to figure out how to work together with each other as a governing board and in partnership with the superintendent. It is with this understanding and significant concern that I have decided to retire from Portland Public Schools now. Please consider this letter my 90-day notice per my employment contract. I have extensive accumulated leave that I intend to use during that time. I encourage the board to identify an interim superintendent as soon as possible. …”
The decision comes on the heels of reports of lead in the drinking water at Portland public schools, and an investigation into the issue.
What the PPS Board says
Commissioned in June, the investigation by the law firm of Stoll Berne revealed PPS had a “lack of clear policies, protocols and communications procedures relating to lead in water and other water quality issues.”
Among the key findings:
• Infrastructure and maintenance has been a lower priority than direct educational services due to budget constraints.
• Since 2001 lead in water has not been viewed by the PPS Board or Administration as a significant issue.
Board chair Tom Koehler said Smith’s decision was her’s alone and gives the board a chance to get an interim superintendent in place before school starts in the Fall.
“I think it’s the right decision,” he told KOIN 6 News. “It gives us time to move forward on an interim basis, gives us time to address the issues that need to be addressed” from the Stoll Berne report.
He also noted Smith has been superintendent for nearly a decade. “It’s probably good for the institution and the individual. Change is good and she certainly has a legacy that will last.”
‘Culture of zero accountability’
For parent and advocate Kim Sordyl, Smith’s legacy is crystal clear.
“I know that she has created a culture where zero accountability, incompetence, dishonesty is just the way,” Sordyl said Monday. “I think that the school board needs to take responsibility for having her go out with her head hanging low in shame because they never supervised her, they didn’t give oversight, they didn’t give her honest feedback when she was doing so many things that were so wrong for the district.”
Sordyl, who is part of a group of parents that began protesting and pushing for change, thinks Smith isn’t the only one who needs to go.
“I want to see the house cleaned first,” she said. “We have the top level people, the highest paid people in the district, who have perpetuated this culture of dishonesty — people like general counsel, chief of staff, human resources director. They need to go.”
She was surprised Smith resigned. But she knows what she wants in a new superintendent.
“Someone who sets a culture of honesty and competence, who rewards people who are truthful. I want to see someone who can bring in the brightest people and keep them.”
Sordyl also wants to know how Koehler is going to change the culture at PPS “because he is part of the problem in terms of not giving her true feedback, not giving true oversight.”
Koehler said those are priorities for the school board both in the interim and long-term.
The next superintendent, he said, is likely to “come from outside the organization.” The board is already receiving proposals for a search firm, which “should be done within the next couple weeks.”
After that, a 2-4 month search is “standard operating time to get something done like that,” he said.
When the next superintendent begins depends on where they come from and what their exact situation is.
But, Koehler said, “the interim replacement will not be done with a search firm. It will be done by the board.”