Heated exchanges set tone for Cascade Locks school petition

March 3, 2012

One way or another, the dispute between the Cascade Locks Community School committee and the Hood River County School District is grinding toward something resembling a resolution.

It just may not be a pretty process getting there.

Last month the Hood River County School Board rebuffed the committee's efforts to get the board to endorse a merger between Cascade Locks School and the Corbett School District.

Now the committee is moving forward with plans to bring a petition to voters, which would need the approval of 500 registered voters in Hood River County and about 150 in the Corbett school district.

Connie Buttaccio, a former assistant superintendant in the Hood River Valley School District now working as an advisor to the committee, said they hope to have petitions done and ready to circulate later this month.

Things have gotten particularly testy between the school district and the committee over the past month.

The board heard a presentation from the committee on Jan. 25, during which it requested the board consider voting on whether or not to support the committee.

Three days later Buttacio and committee president George Fischer received a letter informing them that the board would not support the merger and would wait for the public process to play out.

"We sympathize with the community of Cascade Locks and understand that losing the middle and high school has been extremely difficult. We were heartened to hear just the other day from a Cascade Locks parent who said their kids were thriving both academically and socially while attending school in Hood River," board president Liz Whitmore wrote in an e-mail to Buttaccio and Fischer which was later forwarded to the News. "There are all sorts of stories out there and we implore you to reach out to your community to discuss their wishes. We all want our kids to thrive no matter where they attend school."

At the board's Feb. 8 meeting Buttacio and Kennedy leveled a broadside against the board and Supt. Charlie Beck.

"Once again Cascade Locks has been told, 'This superintendent knows what's best for you; this superintendent knows best for your kids; you parents, you community members… you don't know; Hood River knows. After all, you are from Cascade Locks and we need to save your kids from you,'" Fischer said in a statement at the meeting.

"I don't believe that you know what is best for Cascade Locks or for our children, or that you even care. This committee doesn't believe that you know what is best for Cascade Locks either. You proved that once again."

Buttaccio accused Beck of intercepting emails from her to district staff and not forwarding them on their intended recipients.

"The sender only has the right to know that the person the email was addressed to will receive the email. There are several legal issues with what happened here. Even more importantly, there are several ethical issues here and every administrator and every employee in this district should be aware that Big Brother can and has used his power to find out who you are sending emails to, what you are saying in those emails and what the people that respond to you have said without any provocation or reason to be suspicious that you might have been engaged in something ethically or legally wrong," she said. "It's a scary time to work for the Hood River County School District."

Reached this week, Beck said that emails from Buttaccio had been redirected to him after she sent what he deemed an "inappropriate" email to the staff at Cascade Locks School.

"E-mail is an issue that I would prefer not to comment on, other than to say there was an email that I deemed inappropriate which was sent directly to staff," Beck said.

Beck did not specify what he found inappropriate in Buttacio's e-mail.

Buttacio provided an e-mail to the News which she sent to the Cascade Locks staff which she said was the e-mail Beck found inappropriate.

Sent Dec. 7, the e-mail includes information on Buttacio's background, information on developments in the merger proposal so far from the committee's point of view, information on what would occur in the proposed merger, a handout on the merger from a presentation to the city council and a statement that she believed the committee could no longer work with the school district.

"The process of negotiating a charter with the district has hit a brick wall. I no longer believe that the leadership at the HRCSD has any intention of seeing a charter started in Cascade Locks," Buttaccio wrote. "Folks on the charter committee decided to seek another option: joining a very successful district that shares many similarities with the community of Cascade Locks. I presented this idea to the Corbett School District to see if the board was interested in a merger. I also presented the merger idea to the Cascade Locks City Council. They are also interested."

She closed the e-mail by making a request of the staff and providing contact information for both herself and Fischer to either meet with the staff or discuss the merger.

"Before you make a decision on whether or not the merger is a good idea, or share information with parents or others I hope you will hear both sides of the issue," she wrote.

Email and phone numbers for most teaching staff and administrators in the district are public information and posted on school websites. When asked if it was a district policy for the district to read emails before they reach staff, Beck said it was not.

"That is not a general policy, unless we have a concern," he said.

Buttaccio and Fischer both said the committee was working to get clarification on some information, including property values in Cascade Locks, before sending it to voters.

For the process to move forward after that point, the petition would need around 650 total signatures between Hood River County and Corbett. If enough signatures were gathered, the school district could file a counter petition to trigger a full election in both school districts on the merger.

Beck said there had been some "communication" between himself and Corbett Supt. Randy Trani, but that the school would now be waiting to see how things develop with the petition process.

"The stance of the school board is that there has been initiated a public process and we are prepared to respond to the public process," Beck said. "At this point in time we are just going to have to wait and see what the public process says before we move forward.

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