Ashland School Board: Bellview principal goes

After unanimous objections from a crowd of parents, the Ashland School Board Monday upheld the layoff off Bellview Elementary School Principal Christine McCollom.

In a series of shufflings based on seniority and recession-driven budget cuts, the board voted unanimously (with one abstention), to eliminate the Educational Service Department and let its director, the more senior Michelle Zundel, take over as Bellview principal.

Board members decried the difficulty of the decision, but most said they had to side with the judgment of Superintendent Juli Di Chiro and, as board member Heidi Parker said, "Juli is our executive. She's in charge of staff and we have to allow her to make these difficult decisions."

Bellview parent Greg Abel said Bellview had a "traditional educational approach," had recruited families while enrollment at other elementary schools in Ashland declined and that the layoff of McCollom "appears to be the whim of the superintendent " — and was a surprise attack at the last minute."

Having earlier handled a shortfall of $3.5 million with 20.5 layoffs (full-time equivalent) for the coming year, Di Chiro explained to the audience that she had forgotten new contract provisions and made an error in laying off McCollom, later having to draw names from a hat in choosing between McCollom and Walker Elementary School Principal Patty Michiels, who were hired the same day and have equal seniority.

Members of the audience assailed Di Chiro for doing the random drawing by having a member of the school district staff, without witnesses, draw the name.

Former teacher Charles Walker said it "fires a pistol at Bellview" and, because children need continuity, was a "gross error " — done without witnesses."

Parent Siena Herrera said the decision "lacked ethics" and was "inexcusable, a blatant disregard of professional ethics " — and (showed) a lack of respect for the dignity of the staff."

Parker said she felt the administrative staff was not taking cuts as deep as other employees, but that cutting the director of curriculum (Educational Services Department) was the right decision — and it was not workable to follow the demands of some parents and cut pay for all principals so McCollom could remain.

Board members talked about "building back" after the recession, but board member Amy Patton, who abstained, said the firing decision was "permanent" and could have happened in a "much more inclusive, informed and open manner. It would have made it easier for all of us."

In the final round of cuts Monday, the board dropped the Ashland High School photography program but let the teacher bump an art teacher at Ashland Middle School. It also cut an administrator in the school district office but found federal funding for child development specialists rather than cutting them.

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