WASHOUGAL — Facing calls for her resignation Tuesday night, Mount Pleasant School Board President Dolores Nelson refused to resign and lashed out at district Superintendent Linda Slattery.
Nelson accused the superintendent of spreading lies about her in the wake of a longtime school district employee's resignation. Superintendent Slattery labeled Nelson's comments as examples of the intimidation she has faced from the board president since allegations arose that longtime district bus driver Cheryl Randall stole at least $500 from the district.
"You've never treated me respectfully since I've been superintendent," Slattery said to Nelson. She asked for an apology for comments made about her to The Columbian. No apology was offered.
Slattery had the power to take action against Randall, who has since resigned, but did nothing, Nelson said. Board member Thomas Schlatter accused Nelson of standing in the first-year superintendent's way to protect her friend.
"There was no cover-up," said Nelson, who's served on the board 15 years.
The 80-minute discussion on Nelson's status on the board not only highlighted divisions among the elected body but raised questions about Slattery's long-term status as superintendent and the leadership of the tiny district, whose residents passed a levy to support the K-6 district last fall.
Audience members noted toward the end of the finger-pointing session that the board's behavior had become "toxic." Tanis Morris, the lone applicant for the board's open seat, described stepping onto the body as "pretty scary."
Former board member Phil Caldwell stepped down earlier this year due to family health concerns, he said Tuesday.
Allegations arose against Randall in October that she used a district credit card multiple times to purchase gas for her personal vehicle. While details from a state audit on the incidents have not become public, Schlatter revealed during Tuesday night's meeting that Randall's alleged offenses totaled more than the $500 previously stated. Randall has a court date in Washougal on Thursday on suspicion of third-degree theft.
The Mount Pleasant School District has suffered financially in recent years, Schlatter said, questioning why Nelson allowed an employee who admitted to authorities she stole from the district to remain on staff. The district has five employees and 55 students.
At the meeting, Schlatter called for Nelson to step down as board president, at the very least. Nelson rejected his overtures, noting she had worked to help Slattery, even inviting her into her home.
But it was clear Tuesday night the relationship between the superintendent and board president had deteriorated.
Nelson labeled Slattery's suggestions she had threatened her to keep quiet about Randall's alleged actions as a "bold-faced lie." Nelson alleged Slattery had told Randall she could pay off her debt to the school district $20 at a time.
"It's a lie that I stopped (the superintendent) from disciplining anyone," Nelson said.
Later in the discussion, Schlatter rhetorically asked Nelson, "Why would we retain a liar as superintendent?"
At one point, attorney Don Austin, who represents the district, advised the board to cease discussing Slattery's job performance. Those matters, he noted, were reserved for executive session. Austin listened to the meeting via speaker phone.
Schlatter and fellow board member Karl Kanthak supported Slattery and criticized Nelson and board member Peggy Carroll for informing Skamania County authorities that the board would not seek charges against Randall without first consulting the entire board.
Nelson repeatedly questioned why Schlatter chose to address her status with the board Tuesday, as opposed to months earlier.
Schlatter said Nelson should step down as president for the good of the district's students. Nelson lambasted Schlatter, in turn, for suggesting that because she had no children or grandchildren in the district at present that she should not be on the board.
The audience consisted of about a dozen people, including teachers and board member's spouses. Those who commented on the meeting shared a common revulsion at what they had witnessed.
"This is an incredibly hostile environment ..." Morris remarked of her first board meeting.
Katy Anholt, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Mount Pleasant School, wondered why Slattery would continue as superintendent, given what she has to deal with.
"If I was Linda (Slattery), I would say, 'why would I want to stay here,'" Anholt told the board.
It is time to move on, board member Peggy Carroll said multiple times.
In defending herself, Slattery accused Carroll, in addition to Nelson, of trying to intimidate her.
"We need to let emotions and feelings calm down and give it a rest," Carroll said. "We can't keep dwelling on it."