By editorial board • 

District awash in chaos can’t afford hasty school chief move

It’s hard to grasp the almost incalculable damage done to our neighboring Newberg School District in recent months by four fringe zealots empowered in low-turnout elections by naively unsuspecting voters. It should serve as a dire warning to voters everywhere that every election matters, no matter how low the stakes might appear on the surface.

And it threatens to take an even worse turn if the filling of the district’s vacant superintendency is mishandled.

Less than one-third of eligible voters boosted two of these culture war disruptors into office by 200-vote margins. In both cases, the margins were exceeded by the undervote, reflecting voters who marked their ballots in other races, but not these. A third squeaked in when a pair of opponents split a majority of the votes.

The four have gone on to stir a malignant mix of racism, sexism and homophobia, leading students, teachers and administrators to begin fleeing for more reputable and stable settings. Its hateful conduct has invited eruptions of similar ilk from elements of the student body and community at large, gleefully exploited by anti-maskers, book-banners and militants from Proud Boy and Patriot Prayer ranks.

They have joined in firing an honorable and able superintendent without cause, triggering the cross-filing of a flurry of litigation while breaching all manner of legal and moral mandates. They have put taxpayers at risk for millions of dollars in lost state per-pupil support, legal representation and judgment outlay, administrative buyout expense, replacement recruiting charges and recall election cost.

Mid-January recall balloting may rid us of the board chair and vice-chair, stemming the tide. However, that would not even begin to heal the ugly wounds or repair the massive damage. At best, recovery from this debacle is a long-term prospect.

With the balance of power going forward hinging on next month’s electoral showdown, there’s only one way the board majority could possibly send the district reeling deeper into chaos — by moving to hastily install an ideologically attuned bedfellow in the superintendent’s office.

In the best of times, reputable superintendent searches require months of careful recruiting and vetting, all conducted with ample opportunity for community input. And by all reasonable measure, these are the worst of times in the Newberg School District, not the best.

Board Chair Dave Brown tipped his hand back on Oct. 2, long before Superintendent Joe Morelack’s unceremonious Nov. 9 sacking, when he approached Marc Theilman about the job at a GOP fundraiser in Hillsboro. In addition to serving as school superintendent in Alsea, Theilman is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, thus checking the right ideological box.

Though Theilman was noncommittal, Brown has been pushing to get a permanent replacement in as little as six weeks. To their credit, two search firms interviewed by the board deemed that impossibly ambitious. One turned the job down on the spot and the other pulled out of the running the next day.

The only reasonable course at this juncture is acceptance of an offer from Willamette ESD Superintendent Dave Novotney to fill in on an  interim basis. To his credit, Novotney has imposed conditions designed to insulate himself from the board’s continuing culture war infighting — something we could all benefit from right now.

Comments

Joel R

Not sure who is writing these angry, highly partisan editorials. Long gone are the days when they were written in a thoughtful, respectful and even handed way. I miss those days.
If the NR can't regain some balance and a tone of civility it will be time for me to drop my subscription.

Bill B

I have to agree with Joel The editorial just seemed mean spirited and on the verge of vitriolic. Interesting that the left page on the editorial page seems to focus on the negative while the right side (Jeb's) brings a much more centered approach. Maybe the editorial board could use a performance review?