Vast Void in Leadership Widens at Portland Public Schools

(Stephanie Yao Long/Oregonian)

Portland Public Schools’ chief information officer has resigned, adding to the deluge of vacancies at the highest levels of Oregon’s largest school district.

Josh Klein has overseen information and technology for the district since 2013 and earns a salary of $139,00. He previously held the chief information officer position the Oregon Department of Education. His departure was first reported by KGW.

This past year saw resignations from the district’s longtime superintendent, chief operating officer, general counsel, chief equity officer, two of its three assistant superintendents, chief of human resources and chief of staff.

Filling the high-ranking posts hasn’t been easy. Most are filled on an interim basis, some by district employees whose jobs are in turn vacant.

The vast void in leadership follows a lead scandal that upended the district last summer and sounded the alarm on an issue auditors had been raising for years: a lack of accountability in the culture.

Consultant Anna Richter Taylor, tapped to help with communications in the wake of the lead scandal, stayed longer than planned and assumed the role of interim communications chief at $15,000 a month after her attempt to hire a new director of communications didn’t pan out. That department has seen stability recently with the hire of Harry Esteve as director of strategic communications and outreach and Dave Northfield as director of media relations.

Efforts to hire a top lawyer fell through when the district’s choice backed out after Portland Public Schools claimed to be blindsided by a flaw in his background. He had been prosecuted for violating the public records law in Florida while acting as top lawyer for a school district there. The district then hired a search firm to help fill the job. That contract was signed in January and nothing has changed.

The months-long search for a permanent superintendent collapsed last week after board members soured on their top choice, putting the school board in the position of having to reboot its search. He had been the lone finalist.

Even the temporary leaders of the district are going to start changing. Interim Superintendent Bob McKean’s contract is up at the end of July and he has said he will not stay on, putting Deputy Chief Executive Officer Yousef Awwad in charge. Interim Chief Operating Officer Courtney Wilton’s last day is May 26. Wilton joined the district in a temporary capacity in the wake of the scandal. He has shepherded the district through the process of cataloging the many hazards in its aging schools and also worked to instill safer practices and a culture of identifying and admitting past mistakes.

Under McKean’s budget plan, Wilton’s job will be eliminated and fall to Jerry Vincent, chief of school modernization. That move would put a host of departments — including facilities and asset management, nutrition services, security services, student transportation, enrollment and transfer — all on the shoulders of the person also tasked with implementing the massive construction projects under 2012 bond and the 2017 bond, should it pass.

— Bethany Barnes

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