The Brookings-Harbor School Board Thursday unanimously accepted the resignation of embattled Superintendent Brian Hodge and agreed to a $75,000 buyout agreement.
Hodge's initially asked for a $212,000 buyout.
"It was with a heavy heart that Brian asked to resign; I'm aware that he knows that he is not without fault in this situation," said school board member Katherine Johnson.
The board's decision comes one week after the teachers' union asked the board to place Hodge on immediately administrative leave pending the results of an ongoing investigation spurred by union members' recent "no confidence" vote.
"We had a lot of hope when (Hodge) first came on, but not everyone is cut out for leadership," said board member Sue Chambers. "With his resignation, we are free to move forward, without legal ramifications, without dragging things out."
Hodge was not at work all week and his office appeared to have been cleared of all personal items. When the Curry Coastal Pilot reached Hodge by phone Thursday, he declined to comment.
Specific details of the resignation agreement were not available as the school board was waiting for Hodge to sign the final document.
Hodge has been superintendent for nearly six years, and was the principal of Kalmiopsis Elementary School for several years before that. The district employees about 190 people and serves approximately 1,700 students.
The school board met in executive (closed door) session on Tuesday and Thursday to discuss the terms of Hodge's resignation with the district's lawyer. Once negotiations between the district and Hodge's attorney were complete, the board emerged from Thursday's meeting to publicly vote to accept his resignation, terms, and discuss the process by which to find a replacement.
"The board recognizes that we have a lot of work to do," Johnson said. "The investigation is still in progress and the board is hopeful that the investigation's findings will assist the district in developing a framework for moving forward in a positive direction."
Board member Bruce Raleigh said, "The whole thing has been very, very draining. We need to quit focusing on the past; we can learn from it, of course, but we need to move forward and focus on improving education for the kids."
In June, members of the Brookings-Harbor Education Association (BHEA) presented the "vote of no confidence" to the school board in an executive session.
The union currently has about 180 members in the district, including teachers, instructional aides, clerical and support staff.
Union president Terri Poponi said the vote of no confidence stemmed from "Hodge's on-going lack of leadership, district mismanagement and staff mistreatment that has led to more than two dozen quality and experienced teachers and support staff leaving the district."
In July, the school board, after conferring with legal counsel, unanimously voted to launch an independent investigation into the union's claims. An investigator hired by the district's law firm came to Brookings in late July to conduct several days worth of interviews with current and former school district employees.
On Friday, the union issued a statement, saying, "The BHEA believes that the current administration, as guided by Brian Hodge, has run its course, and that a new direction is in the best interest of all district stakeholders. We wish the former superintendent the very best in all his future endeavors."
The union said its executive team was excited about working with "the new Brookings-Harbor School District adminstrative team.
"With the exception of principal Helena Chirinian at Kalmiopisis Elementary School, the district has new leadership in the top administrative positions across the board," the union stated. "The district is currently in a wonderful position to begin laying the foundational framework for a collaborative relationship between the district administion and the BHEA membership, based on mutual respect, and what is best for every student in our community."
The controversy surrounding Hodge is the latest in a series of challenges facing the school district, where morale has been said to be at an all-time low and graduation rates continue to drop.
In the last several months, the school board chair resigned mid-term, the district's finance manager, two principals and 11 teachers have taken jobs elsewhere, and the transition from a traditional to proficiency-based grading system has been deemed a disaster.
Since then, the district has hired about 17 new employees, including two principals, a vice principal and several teachers. More hirings are pending.
One of the new hires, selected by Hodge and approved by the board, is Lisa Dion, the new principal at Brookings-Harbor High School.
In a memo to high school staff, Dion wrote, "Instances like this can cause deep and toxic division in a staff if resentments are allowed to grow and fester. I will address such concerns quickly and work to resolve them."
She added, "My brief time working with Mr. Hodge was a positive and productive one. I was able to address several issues moving into the 2014-2015 school year that will have a positive impact on the master schedule and, consequently, our high school students and staff. Given my experience with Mr. Hodge, I respect his decision to step aside, but I do so with regret."
Johnson was quick to point out that Hodge's departure is not going to fix all the district's problems.
"As superintendent, he ultimately bears the burden of all that has occurred," Johnson said. "But the opinion of some people that all of our problems will disappear with him gone is not correct."
She added, "All of us have contributed to our situation; it's not just one person's fault."
Johnson and other board members said the ongoing investigation will likely raise additional issues unrelated to Hodge.
"The hard work is only just beginning," Johnson said.
That work includes filling Hodge's seat, first with an interim superintendent and eventually a permanent one. The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. Monday to begin the process.
The board will contact the state's Education Service District in Coos Bay to see if the superintendent there will act as the "superintendent-of-record" for the Brookings school district. A local administrator may be appointed to handle day-to-day duties until an interim superintendent is appointed.
The board hopes to hire a permanent superintendent no later than November or December.
"I am aware there are issues that will need to be addressed. We have a lot of work to do," said school board member Alice Farmer. "This district has outstanding staff, students and parents and I am hopeful that we will all join together and move forward."
Chambers said, "With the right leadership, we can really change things around. The board will have a great deal of influence on the new superintendent and on what can be done."