School superintendents from Portland, Parkrose, David Douglas, Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Corbett, Riverdale and Reynolds are forcing Multnomah Education Service District to oust Superintendent Barbara Jorgensen over questions about her leadership style, emails obtained through a public records request show.
The details still aren't clear, but Doug Montgomery, a member of the MESD board, says the local districts threatened to pull their contracts unless MESD made a leadership change.
The local districts pool resources to purchase services through MESD, but they're not required to go through MESD. Montgomery said the board hadn't voted to end Jorgensen's contract yet, but that a settlement package was "in progress." Nels Johnson, the board's vice chairman, said Jorgensen wouldn't be coming back.
Jorgensen couldn't be reached for comment immediately.
The MESD board announced in an unusual press release on March 5 that Jorgensen was "currently working offsite, and will continue to work offsite for the indeterminate future."
Raising more questions than it answered, the press release added: "Out of respect for Superintendent Jorgensen's privacy, MESD is refraining from comment about this change."
Emails released to WW through a public records request shine light on what led up to the March 5 announcement. They show an organized effort by local superintendents to force the change. Jorgensen has served as MESD superintendent for three years but has worked at the service district for more than 20.
On Feb. 19, Karen Fischer Gray, superintendent of Northeast Portland's Parkrose School District, wrote to colleagues at neighboring districts under the subject line "important meeting." It called on everyone to attend a Feb. 24 meeting "to discuss the future of MESD."
She followed up in a March 5 email, hours after MESD announced that Jorgensen would be "working offsite." She relayed details from a conversation with Bernie Giusto, former Multnomah County sheriff and current chairman of the MESD board. "They are sorting through her contract," Gray wrote.
Moments later, Giusto replied to the local superintendents in his own email. "We are looking forward to including our component districts as we moved [sic] forward," he wrote.