Formal complaint filed against superintendent

 by Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

With a room full of concerned parents and citizens hoping for a resolution in a dispute between Harney County School District (HCSD) No. 3 and Silvies River Charter School (SRCS), HCSD No. 3 board chair Ralph Dickenson squelched any sort of input on the matter by declaring that there would be no public discussion allowed at the meeting.

Dickenson’s declaration came at the outset of a special meeting of the HCSD No. 3 board of directors on Thursday, March 20.

At the center of the dispute is a complaint filed Feb. 19 by SRCS Superintendent Katie Baltzor  against HCSD No. 3 Superintendent Marilyn McBride.

Dickenson stated that he would read the complaint and the response from McBride aloud, but wouldn’t allow public comment on the matter.

Baltzor pointed out that SRCS was put on the agenda under both reports and action items, and she asked, “But you won’t allow us to speak?”

“No. We’re not going to have a public discussion,” Dickenson replied.

SRCS board member Nancy Walker said, “We’re talking about kids in our community, and this is a bad example for kids and families. Our intent is for District 3 to be strong and viable. We don’t see it as a competition.”

In response, Dickenson said, “If it wasn’t your intent to turn it into a circus, you wouldn’t have brought this many people.”

Baltzor then asked the rest of the board members if Dickenson was speaking for them as well, when he stated that no one from the public would be allowed to speak, and there was no definitive answer to the direct question.

Dickenson then read the complaint and the response to those in attendance.

The complaint charges that McBride failed “to follow the provisions set forth in ORS 339.260 and OAR 581-021-0255. These laws require the former educational agency to transfer the student records no later than 10 days after a request is received from a school.”

The letter goes on to say that HCSD No. 3 secretaries indicated SRCS requests go directly to McBride, and the secretaries had been additionally instructed by McBride to not fax transcripts, as they must be sent to her office.

The letter noted, “Some of the records requested involved students who received denial letters by McBride a minimum of two days (maximum 14 days) after being enrolled and already attending Silvies. All of the students appealed the denials and the denials were thus overturned by ODE (Oregon Department of Education).”

Baltzor’s letter stated that SRCS would view the complaint as being resolved when:

“1. Superintendent McBride sends all of the delinquent records/transcripts immediately.

2. All future record requests shall be sent to SRCS to comply with the aforementioned statutes.

3. The superintendent shall cease the practice of holding records for students [that] the District intends to send SRCS enrollment denial letters [to].

4. Presuming the District intends to follow Oregon statutes for SRCS as they do for other schools, the superintendent shall allow building and district secretaries to process all SRCS record as received, e.g., eliminate superintendent authorization requirements for SRCS, fax transcripts when requested, mail records directly to SRCS, etc.”

In her response, dated Feb. 24, McBride  stated that, “Generally, according to ORS 338.125 the student who wishes to enroll in a virtual public charter school does not need the approval of the school district where the student is a resident before the student enrolls in the virtual charter school. Notwithstanding, the subsection and ORS 339.133, which may be information you have not had the chance to review, states that if more than 3 percent of the students who reside in the district are enrolled in virtual charter schools that are not sponsored by the school district, a student who is a resident of the school district must receive approval from the district BEFORE enrolling in a virtual public charter school.”

The letter then notes that enrollment of HCSD No. 3 students in SRCS has exceeded 3 percent of the students who reside in the district, and therefore, any new applications require the student to first seek approval from the district before enrolling at SRCS. Failure to do so would result in the student being enrolled at SRCS in violation of state law.

McBride wrote once the 3 percent limitation was reached, SRCS enrolled students prior to approval from either the district or the Oregon Department of Education, a practice that doesn’t meet Oregon statute standards. As long as the 3 percent limitation has been exceeded, the district will not send records for any new student seeking enrollment at SRCS unless the procedures described in the statutes are satisfied.

She added the district will make reasonable effort to send records with record requests following approval for enrollment either by the district or the state, and “I trust SRCS will no longer enroll students prior to approval and in violation of state law.”

In closing, McBride stated that record requests must be sent to the district office, as school secretaries do not have information related to any denials due to the 3 percent limitation.

Baltzor then asked if her letter to the school board, dated March 5, was going to be read? She explained that SRCS was following the district’s complaint process, and because an adequate resolution had not been reached, the next step was to bring the complaint to the board.

Dickenson asked how the letter was substantially different from the first, and said he didn’t think it needed to be read.

Baltzor pointed out it was a rebuttal to McBride’s response, and deserved to be heard. “It cites law that is key to the entire argument,” she said.

Dickenson relented, and allowed the March 5 letter to be read. In it, Baltzor points to the Oregon statutes and administrative rules (OAR) that back her argument, and states that McBride is in violation of OAR 581-021-0255 by not providing student records in the time frame set by the OAR.

In response to McBride’s assertion that SRCS was in violation of state law with their enrollment practices, Baltzor states that SRCS has followed the law. She explained that once a student is denied enrollment by HCSD No. 3, and until overturned by ODE in the appeal process, the student is withdrawn from SRCS. That means SRCS does not receive basic school support  for the student during that time period, but they continue to provide educational services.

Following the reading of the letters, Dickenson stated that it was the board’s intention to meet the laws, as they apply.

When asked if the charter school would receive a written response from the board, Dickenson replied, “No. Our complaint policy says we may or may not. Our intent is to meet the rule of the law.”

Baltzor asked that the charter school receive some sort of response, so they could decide which direction to go next, and asked if the board could respond within two weeks time.

“No, we didn’t say that,” stated Dickenson. “We will respond, just don’t know when. Maybe through an attorney.”

“Our position is that we would like a response within two weeks,” said Baltzor. “If there’s no response by then, we’ll seek legal counsel.”

“There’s no time limit, but we will respond in some manner,” Dickenson replied.

•••

Burns High School (BHS) FFA Advisor Jimmy Zamora told the board the BHS FFA chapter went to Louisville, Ky., for the national convention, and gave a short slide presentation.

He then outlined three upcoming trips for the group, which are the Oregon State FFA Convention March 21-24 in Bend; the Strawberry Mountain FFA District Shop Skills competition April 10 in Ontario; and the Oregon State FFA Career Development Event May 4-6 in Corvallis.

The board approved a motion to allow the trips.

The board also approved the list of paid and volunteer coaches for the district, and teaching positions for Kathy Wassom and Gordon Black.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting for the school board is 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 8.



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