Friday, March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023

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Evergreen schools superintendent under investigation, on leave

By , Columbian staff writer

The Evergreen Board of Directors placed Superintendent Mike Merlino on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an internal investigation, the district announced Wednesday morning.

The decision was made unanimously in an executive board meeting on Tuesday night after about 45 minutes of private deliberation.

Individual members of the board and district spokesperson Gail Spolar did not share any details on the nature of the investigation, nor what may have sparked it. News of Merlino’s departure comes just a few months before district voters will decide on a critical replacement operations levy in a February special election.

Evergreen Education Association President Bill Beville said news of the decision was completely unexpected. The union represents the largest group of school employees in the district.

“In actuality, I found out when everyone else did,” Beville said. “It caught me by surprise. This is not in conjunction with any union concerns, meaning it’s not a reaction to anything we’ve brought up.”

Evergreen — which is Clark County’s largest school district — also passed routine financial and accountability audits by the Washington State Auditor earlier this year.

Board president Victoria Bradford will retain oversight of the district while it searches for an interim superintendent. The move to search for an interim, Beville said, could suggest that this is going to be a long-term change rather than a brief break.

A May report from the Washington Association of School Administrators described divides and a lack of trust among senior-level leadership in Evergreen Public Schools. “This lack of systemic trust is having a chilling effect on climate and culture that is impeding the effectiveness of district office staff,” the report said.

Suggesting further leadership training for senior officials, the report prompted Merlino to enroll in a superintendent certification program through Washington State University.

It also mentioned that the district had a chance to “wipe the slate clean” once all administrative departments finished moving into their new district headquarters at 13413 N.E. Leroy Haagen Memorial Drive this past summer. The building was completed on Oct. 20.

Merlino was appointed interim superintendent, and then superintendent, in the spring of 2019.

Merlino has never worked as a teacher but has worked in public education in Clark County since 1988, first at Educational Service District 112 until starting at Evergreen in 2000. He went on to serve as the district’s director of budget and operations, then its chief financial officer and chief operating officer before being appointed superintendent.

He will continue to be paid while the investigation is underway. Merlino is earning just over $305,000 annually through the end of the current school year, after which he was scheduled to receive a cut of approximately $36,000 as Jennifer Jacobson completes her transition to chief financial officer.

The board stated on Wednesday that the investigation, which will be conducted by an outside investigator, is expected to be concluded in the next few weeks. It also indicated that thoroughness, rather than expediency, is the priority.