Mount Pleasant bus driver pleads guilty

But fallout from theft still roils district

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A former Mount Pleasant School District bus driver Thursday pleaded guilty in court to stealing $500 from the district in October.

However, the fallout from Cheryl Randall's actions and how district officials handled her employment status in their wake continues.

Randall, 59, will be sentenced for third-degree misdemeanor theft on Aug. 2 in Camas-Washougal Municipal Court. The 27-year veteran resigned in May after board members publicly raised concerns about her continued employment with the district, eight months after she admitted to using a district credit card to purchase gas for her personal vehicle.

District officials expected to hire a replacement for Randall during Tuesday's monthly board meeting, but Dale Grams turned down the job after sitting through a heated discussion over whether board President Dolores Nelson should resign her title, he said. The K-6 district, which has five employees and 55 students, must start the process over.

Grams, director of public education for Skamania County EMS, sought the job with Mount Pleasant for its health insurance. The 60-year-old currently pays for his health insurance, he said.

"I've never sat on a board where people talked to each other like that," said Grams, the president-elect of Skamania County Chamber of Commerce. "I could not envision going to work for that organization. They're doomed.

"If those people on that board are not embarrassed for themselves, then they should be."

At the meeting, Nelson refused board member Thomas Schlatter's calls for her to step down as president and denied accusations she had tried to cover up her friend Randall's misdeeds. However, Schlatter indicated Thursday he planned to bring up Nelson's status with the board at a later date.

Schlatter declined to discuss specifics about the future meeting. Nelson did not immediately return a phone call Thursday afternoon.

Audience members who attended Tuesday's meeting decried the board's "toxic" nature. Among those who remarked on the board's divisive behavior was Tannis Morris, who accepted an appointment to fill a board vacancy following the conclusion of the 80-minute discussion on Nelson's status.

The wounds opened Tuesday night were still fresh Thursday.

Superintendent Linda Slattery defended her character during a phone interview Thursday. Two days earlier, Nelson repeatedly called her a liar regarding allegations the board president threatened the superintendent to keep quiet about the allegations against Randall. Slattery and her supporters, Schlatter and Karl Kanthak, accused Nelson of intimidating her into not taking action to remove Randall as a district employee. Nelson said that was Slattery's role as superintendent.

On Thursday, Slattery said she felt "beat up" by Nelson and board member Peggy Carroll.

"I need to take a break from this place," Slattery said, noting the district would contract out cleaning services for the summer.

The district will once again advertise to fill the position formerly filled by Randall, Slattery said. Randall served as recess aide, cafeteria and custodial supervisor, and oversaw building maintenance, in addition to driving the district's lone school bus.

One person who appears unlikely to get the job is Melinda Morris, who replaced Randall for the school year's final three weeks.

Morris did not know Mount Pleasant existed prior to being hired, much less know the bus route, she said. She hoped to continue with the district next year, she added, but on the school's final day she said she learned from Slattery that the district planned to hire someone else.

"I was thrown under the bus on the last day," Morris said.

Slattery disagreed with the depiction, noting she attempted to do what was best for the district and had hoped to keep Morris on as a substitute bus driver.

"The person we were going to hire lives across the road and is familiar with the weather conditions," the superintendent said.

At least one district parent, Karen DeTally, voiced concerns Tuesday night about having a person unfamiliar with the district's hilly roads driving the bus. Told of DeTally's comments, Morris expressed shock Thursday that someone who had given her a card stating her gratitude had turned on her.

DeTally explained she gave Morris the card on the second or third day she took the route, but had later decided Morris would be better suited for a different bus route.

DeTally, whose son is entering fifth grade this fall, praised Mount Pleasant's three teachers and Slattery. But, given the events of Tuesday, she did not blame Grams for staying away from the district's ongoing drama.

"The way they were arguing back and forth, who would want to be in that situation?" DeTally said, adding she did not believe Tuesday's bickering was the norm.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.